Most of the warblers, of which there are a lot around here, usually are dressed up in shades of green or yellow, with a bit of black or brown thrown in sometimes.
But there are two which have become quite different from the run-of-the-mill—being decked out in black, white, and bright orange.
These are the Redstart and the Blackburnian Warbler.
The Redstart is one of the handsomest of all our warblers. A lot of its plumage is black (head, neck, back, and most of its tail). Its underparts are mostly white, but the sides of the tail are bright orange.
So are parts of its wings and some of its sides.
The male bird seems to know how good-looking it is because it goes around a lot spreading that tail and those wings so everyone can see the delightful colours.
The female has just about the same pattern, but in different colours. Where the male is black, the female is grey, and where he is orange, she is yellow.
As well, she is more modest and doesn’t go around showing off.
This probably is one of the most numerous birds in North America. Then why don’t we see them more often? For one thing, they usually don’t arrive until most of the trees already are in leaf, so they tend to be somewhat hidden.
Also, the song of the male bird is almost a washout. Just a lisping, slurred “tsee-tsee-tsee-tsrr.” It has some other songs, too, but none of them are very remarkable.
Since many people notice the song first, then look for the bird, this may have a bearing on why they are seen so rarely.
Redstarts will start to move south in early September, or even earlier here in Northwestern Ontario. They tend to migrate on a broad front, maybe 1,000 miles wide.
Only when they are down in the States do they tend to shift into the more regular migratory notes.
The Blackburnian Warbler is the other brightly-coloured one. Its back and other upper parts are mostly black, and it has a yellow stripe on its head.
But its throat and breast are brilliant fiery orange, shading to orangey-yellow.
The female, again, has much of the same markings, but where the male is black, she is brownish, and where he is orange, she is yellow.
This is a bird of the evergreen forest. It makes its nest in pines, 70 or 80 feet above the ground, and it usually stays fairly high up in the trees to look for all those insects.
This is another bird which does not have a very spectacular song (high-pitched trill, sort of thin and wiry, maybe ending in a buzz).
It also has some other songs—none very impressive.
So there are our two flashy warblers, the Redstart (Setophaga rutillica) and the Blackburnian (Dendrica fusca). The males certainly are unmistakable and even the females are quite easy to identify.
Incidentally, you might wonder about that name: Blackburnian. Well, back in the late 1800s, a specimen was sent to England from New York. It was examined and classified by a Mrs. Blackburn, who had never seen it before.
So it was given the name Blackburnian in her honour.
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