Monday, September 17, 2012

Confusing Fall Warblers? Not so much!

"They're all green," was the rationale she gave us for not birding in the fall. Fortunately, Dottie Johnson and I can nod along with the best of them and didn't respond to her comment. We both knew better, and in more ways than one. Sometimes it's best just to smile back and bird on. Perhaps it might have been a teaching moment, but the woman didn't stick around. She won. Her truth was that Dottie and I were engaged in a hopelessly futile activity. Enjoy them? How could we. Identify them? Forget it! They're all green, don't you know. While it's true that some southbound warbler species are yellowish-green and have rather dull or plain plumage topology, most show their vibrant colors throughout August and September.

Here's a list of adult species I've observed this month at Pheasant Branch Conservancy (southern Wisconsin) that were in alternate (breeding plumage), appearing pretty much as they do during spring migration:

Northern Waterthrush
Blue-winged Warbler
Golden-winged Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Connecticut Warbler
Mourning Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Northern Parula
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Canada Warbler

Species observed in basic (non-breeding plumage):

Tennessee Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Cape May Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler

Many birders agree that juvenile Chestnut-sided Warblers are adorable. First-year Common Yellowthroats, Mourning Warblers, and Connecticut Warblers can be sort of tough to identify, but there's usually more to go on that just plumage color; behavior and vocalizations still help. Even this morning I heard a Tennessee Warbler sing. Some Blackburnian Warblers can be almost devoid of color, making them tricky to identify. But the “baypoll” complex is one of the toughest fall warbler challenges. Here's a great eBird article by Tom Schultz on how to separate these two species during fall migration.

Don't bird in the fall? Reconsider it!

Link: Finding Fall Warblers by Drew Weber

© 2012 Mike McDowell


  1. Yes, I agree! I think the confusing fall warbler stereotype is one of the most unfortunate in birding because it makes people scared to even try.

  2. I love fall birding. I love the challenge of finding them among the leaves and getting a good enough look to identify them if I can. Little buggers usually don't sit still long enough!