Bird-Lore/Volume 01/No. 1/In Warbler Time

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Official Organ of the Audubon Societies

Vol. 1 February, 1899 No. 1

In Warbler Time

THIS morning, May 5, as I walked through the fields the west wind brought to me a sweet, fresh odor, like that of fragrant violets, precisely like that of our little white sweet violet (Viola blanda). I do not know what it came from,—probably from sugar maples, just shaking out their fringe-like blossoms,—but it was the first breath of May, and very welcome. April has her odors, too, very delicate and suggestive, but seldom is the wind perfumed with the breath of actual bloom before May. I said it is Warbler time; the first arrivals of the pretty little migrants should be noted now. Hardly had my thought defined itself when before me, in a little hemlock, I caught the flash of a blue, white-barred wing; then glimpses of a yellow breast and a yellow crown. I approached cautiously, and in a moment more had a full view of one of our rarer Warblers, the Blue-winged Yellow Warbler. Very pretty he was, too, the yellow cap, the yellow breast, and the black streak through the eye being conspicuous features. He would not stand to be looked at long, but soon disappeared in a near-by tree.

The Ruby-crowned Kinglet was piping in an evergreen tree near by, but him I had been hearing for several days. The Kinglets come before the first Warblers, and may be known to the attentive eye by their quick, nervous movements, and small greenish forms, and to the discerning ear by their hurried, musical, piping strains. How soft, how rapid, how joyous and lyrical their songs are! Very few country people, I imagine, either see them or hear them. The powers of observation of country people are not fine enough and trained enough. They see and hear coarsely. An object must be big and a sound loud, to attract their attention. Have you seen and heard the Kinglet? If not, the finer inner world of nature is a sealed book to you. When your senses take in the Kinglet they will take in a thousand other objects that now escape you.

My first Warbler in the spring is usually the Yellow Redpoll, which I see in April. It is not a bird of the trees and woods, but of low bushes in the open, often alighting upon the ground in quest of food. I sometimes see it on the lawn. The last one I saw was one April day, when I went over to the creek to see if the suckers were yet running up. The bird was flitting amid the low bushes, now and then dropping down to the gravelly bank of the stream. Its chestnut crown and yellow under parts were noticeable.

The past season I saw for the first time the Golden-winged Warbler—a shy bird, that eluded me a long time in an old clearing that had grown up with low bushes. The song first attracted my attention, it is so like in form to that of the Black-throated Green Back, but in quality so inferior. The first distant glimpse of the bird, too, suggested the Green Back, so for a time I deceived myself with the notion that it was the Green Back with some defect in its vocal organs. A day or two later I heard two of them, and then concluded my inference was a hasty one.

Following one of the birds, I caught sight of its yellow crown, which is much more conspicuous than its yellow wing-bars. Its song is like this, ’n-’n de de de, with a peculiar reedy quality, but not at all musical, falling far short of the clear, sweet, lyrical song of the Green Back.

One appreciates how bright and gay the plumage of many of our Warblers is, when he sees one of them alight upon the ground. While passing along a wood road in June, a male Black-throated Green came down out of the hemlocks and sat for a moment on the ground before me. How out of place he looked, like a bit of ribbon or millinery just dropped there! The throat of this Warbler always suggests the finest black velvet. Not long after I saw the Chestnut-sided Warbler do the same thing. We ware trying to make it out in a tree by the roadside, when it dropped down quickly to the ground in pursuit of an insect, and sat a moment upon the brown surface, giving us a vivid sense of its bright new plumage.

When the leaves of the trees are just unfolding, or, as Tennyson says, “ When all the woods stand in a mist of green, and nothing perfect,” the tide of migrating Warblers is at its height. They come in the night, and in the morning the trees are alive with them. The apple trees are just showing the pink, and how closely the birds inspect them in their eager quest for insect food! One cold, rainy day at this season Wilson’s Black-cap,—a bird that is said to go north nearly to the arctic circle,—explored an apple tree in front of my window. It came down within two feet of my face, as I stood by the pane, and paused a moment in its hurry and peered in at me, giving me an admirable view of its form and markings. It was wet and hungry, and it had a long journey before it. What a small body to cover such a distance!

The Black-poll Warbler, which one may see about the same time, is a much larger bird and of slower movement, and is colored much like the Black and White Creeping Warbler with a black cap on its head. The song of this bird is the finest, the least in volume, and most insect-like of that of any Warbler known to me. It is the song of the Black and White Creeper reduced, high and swelling in the middle and low and faint at its beginning and ending. When one has learned to note and discriminate the Warblers, he has made a good beginning in his or her ornithological studies.