A Warbler for the Rest of Us

Wilson’s Warbler
Wilson’s Warbler

If you’re going to become acquainted with just one warbler, the Wilson’s Warbler is a good choice. There are many warbler species that wing through the Western United States, and many of them look discouragingly alike. What’s more, they spend most of their time high in trees or deep in thickets, shunning gardens and feeders where they could be easily viewed. Some warbler identifications guides show only the undersides of their tails – since that’s what birdwatchers, craning their necks, are most likely to see, if anything. One of the few maladies associated with birding, in fact, is called “Warbler’s neck,” acquired by staring straight up for long periods. Serious birders can devote years to trying to see and identify the various warblers, only to end up needing chiropractic care.  

Wilson’s Warbler, stretching (All photos courtesy of Tom Grey)

So why the Wilson’s Warbler? First, it’s easily recognizable and can’t be mistaken for anything else. It’s a very small round bird that is bright yellow all over, except that the male sports a jaunty little black beret. The female also has a beret, but light brown or olive, so not as obvious. Like a lemon with wings, this warbler stands out wonderfully even in the shade.  

Second, this bird stays much lower than most warblers, preferring to hunt for insects in shrubs or low forest understory. You can easily see one without looking up at all.  

And finally, Wilson’s Warblers like to hang out near water, so they are easily seen along Channel Drive, which follows Oakmont Creek. On spring mornings, you can often see one or more of them flitting around the area where Channel Drive turns into the Annadel parking lot. The passing parade of cars, bikes, and walkers does not seem to bother them at all. They have a distinctive song that sounds like typing – a string of quick, staccato notes on the same pitch. 

The Wilson’s Warbler is named for Alexander Wilson, a Scottish emigree who has been called the father of American ornithology. When he died in 1813, just 47 years old, he had published a nine-volume illustrated set of books on the birds of North America, including over 260 species, quite a few of which had not been previously described. His work inspired the better-known John James Audubon, whose own glorious volumes of bird illustrations followed decades later. In addition to the adorable warbler, there is a Wilson’s Phalarope, Plover, Snipe, and Storm Petrel. None of these is likely to show up in Oakmont. So enjoy Wilson’s Warbler! It’s around from April through September. 

Like birds and bird watching? Join the Oakmont Birders mailing list by contacting bkendrick@jps.net. Share what you’re seeing. Questions about birds? Want a “Birds Seen in Oakmont” checklist? Send an e-mail. 

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