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Bird Bits: The invisible bird

Posted: June 20, 2014 - 12:00am

In the top of a cottonwood, a slender bird stretched a silhouetted wing and leg.

That’s it.

That’s all I saw.

The gray bird, a variation of the “little brown job,” was identified for me by Mary Willson on Beaver Patrol in the Dredge Lake area.

“Warbling Vireo,” she said with authority that I respect.

The song mnemonic — “If I sees you, I will seize you, and I’ll squeeze you till you squirt!” — sung at a lively clip and raising at the end, really fits to my way of hearing the song. Listen for yourself to the warbling vireo at http://allaboutbirds.org.

These grand singers may be males, arriving now before the females, to set up their territories with song. They have successfully completed their nocturnal migration from Mexico, surviving encounters with various towers and tall buildings in the dark.

Warbling vireos forage for insects amongst the outer leaves of trees, in the middle and top sections. Riparian areas, enhanced by beaver activity, help create a grand food resource for birds and other creatures. These birds stalk, hover and hawk for their meals. Coming upon a juicy caterpillar, a warbling vireo will pluck it up with its beak and whack it into submission. The feeding strategy of hawking, also called fly catching, involves a zip out from a perch into the air, snatching an insect on the wing, and flipping around to return to the same or a different perch.

This is a tough bird to get a clear look at. You might have a better chance spotting a nest. I’ll keep an eye out for a patch of material in outward-forked tree twigs. A woven nest will hang from the fork like a small pouch.

Sing, sing, sing … these birds can be spotted doing so from a high perch, near the edge of a nest, and on the nest. Unmated males sing almost continuously. Or the warbling vireos may reveal themselves during the racket of mobbing a suspiciously behaving Stellar jay or squirrel, seeking a chick meal for their own dear little ones.

• Patricia Wherry is the education chair for the Juneau Audubon Society. Reach her at education@juneau-audubon-society.org.

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