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Bird bits: The little warbler who 'skips like a rock'

Posted: August 22, 2013 - 11:01pm

Early this month, a Wilson’s warbler mom (lacking the male black cap) and her three fledglings dashed about for insects in the alder and willow groves around my home. The young chattered away like one constant voice — jabbering as if they were still little ones begging from the nest, which must’ve been somewhere close by in the low shrubs. They swooped low to the ground and sat in the open on the wooden fence, a dangerous move in a cat neighborhood.

Sprouting a lot of “wild hairs” over their molting bodies gave them a bohemian air and the appearance of being larger than their sliver-sized, 0.3-ounce parent.

Yet, they survived the cats, ravens, a squirrel family and human inquisitiveness. Although I haven’t spotted a male, he may be in the area with the other part of this brood. He helped incubate and feed the nestlings.

It’s been a couple of weeks and the fledglings with the female are flying strong. They have picked up on the frantic nature that goes along with being a Wilson’s warbler. These little birds remain in constant motion — turn, jerk, hop, leap, tail bob. They like to stay in the low- to mid-tree level and use a wide range of insectivore hunting techniques. Spot them hanging like a chickadee, quickly dashing through the deciduous foliage or doing and flycatcher-dart out of leafy branches to gobble a flying meal. Wiry little hairs (rectal bristles) around the base of a flattened pointy bill are flycatching tools.

These warblers will soon begin long night flights toward Mexico and Central America. The Wilson’s warbler is the only migrant warbler found in tropical high plains during the winter. Plumage of adults varies little seasonally. You’ll be able to recognize this long-tailed, olive green wood warbler, whose flight is like a skipped rock, if you migrate for a visit south.

• Patricia Wherry is the education chairperson for the Juneau Audubon Society. Contact her at

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