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Townsend's warblers: They do what to aphids?

Posted: July 11, 2013 - 11:04pm
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Owen Squires, 12-years-old at left, and buddy Kyle Harley-Robinson, 12, were avid observers at a Saturday morning Juneau Audubon Society bird walk near Sandy Beach.   Photo by Doug Jones
Photo by Doug Jones
Owen Squires, 12-years-old at left, and buddy Kyle Harley-Robinson, 12, were avid observers at a Saturday morning Juneau Audubon Society bird walk near Sandy Beach.

“Can’t you see them?” Owen, age 12, said. “Townsend’s warblers, three of them in the top of the tree.”

Getting a clear view of a Townsend’s warbler can be difficult. The warblers flash about in the tops of tall, leafy alder trees. The males sing from the tips of spruce.

Listening was how we spotted most of the birds on this walk. The boys have good ears.

A Townsend’s warbler makes a “weazy, weazy (car won’t crank rhythm), dee dee – twea (this last sound ends as a punched high note)”. (Visit http://allaboutbirds.org, a Cornell University site, which features free bird sounds.)

But besides just their song, the Townsend’s warbler is a stunner. The male’s crown and throat are black; the two colors acting like a sandwich around a brilliant yellow face, stamped with a black mask. There’s a small yellow crescent under the eye, and the chest and sides are yellow, the belly and undertail white. Black streaks extend from the throat down the sides. The back is a more conservative olive green with black streaks or spots. Finish that off with two slashing white wing bars and — Zowie! — you’ve got the Townsend’s warbler.

But what are these birds looking for up high? Phloem is part of a two way plant plumbing system; soil nutrients go up and leaf sugar down. Scale insects and aphids chomp into the phloem for a meal of sugary honeydew. This liquid sugar is under high pressure and is forced out of the insects’ gut. Aphids and their extruded honeydew are delectable to Townsend’s warblers.

Don’t wait for gray hair! Go listen and watch for these delightful birds you young people. By the way, the chestnut backed chickadees’ little ones have fledged. They hang on at landings for dear life. Plus, it’s a good bug year; The parents are starting a second brood.

Patricia Wherry is the education chairperson for the Juneau Audubon Society.
Contact her at education@juneau_audubon_society.org.

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