In the bird world, nothing says fall is here like the influx of Yellow-Rumped Warblers, coming back to over-winter with us here in Oakmont from the far-northern and higher-elevation woods where they breed. By far the most common Warbler we see in the winter, they always seem plentiful, and some years their numbers can be overwhelming.
It’s a pleasure when a bird is aptly named – so much easier to remember and identify – and the Yellow-Rumped Warbler is one of these. They all have distinct yellow patches on their lower backs, just above the tail, and many birders affectionately call them Butter Butts. This bright yellow spot can always be seen when the birds are flying, and often when they are at rest as well. Focus on finding this, and you won’t go wrong in your ID.
These Warblers are small birds, about the size of a Chickadee. When they are not in breeding plumage (from late fall to early spring), they are grayish on the head and body with white in the wings. The breast is often white with dark stripes, and sometimes yellow patches are visible on the bird’s sides. There are two subspecies, which are easy to distinguish if you are looking at males. The Audubon variety, which is most common here, usually has a bright yellow throat – like he’s wearing a butter-colored bandanna. (One way to remember this is to associate “Audubon” with Au, the symbol for gold: Audubon has the golden throat.) The Myrtle variety’s throat is white. The females and immature males are not as brightly colored, but all of them have the Butter Butt.
Yellow-Rumped Warblers will eat just about anything – which probably plays a role in their success as a species. While insects are their number one choice, they also go for berries and seeds, and will come to feeders for sunflower seeds and suet. (Remember: everyone loves suet, especially as it gets colder!) They often travel in flocks, where you can hear them calling a soft “Seet seet seet seet” to each other.
With the fall birds returning, now is a good time to clean your feeders, including your suet cages. Dunk them in a bucket of soapy water (Dawn dishwashing liquid is good) with a dollop of bleach, and let them sit for a while. Then scrub away any dirt or grease that remains, hose them off to rinse, and let them dry thoroughly before refilling. This will go far to keep your bird guests healthy.
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Yellow rump, as advertised
Male Audubon in breeding garb (Photos by Tom Grey)