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Curious Nature: Catch a glimpse of flying wonders

Rachel Solomon
Daily Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado

Need something to do today? Want to go looking for a bouquet? You’ll find yourself looking up, instead of down at the ground, if you’re a birder! A bouquet, in the birding world, refers to a group of warblers. And, no, I’m not talking about the all-male singing group on “Glee”; I’m talking about the 4- to 6-inch, less-than-half-an-ounce flying wonders.

In mid- to late April, warblers begin their journey across the Gulf of Mexico to Alaska and Canada for summer nesting, stopping over in Colorado for some much-needed fuel. Some travel from as far south as Peru in flocks of mixed species of birds that can be composed of numbers in the thousands.

If you want to catch a glimpse of these adorable creatures, you are not going to be able to use your everyday bird seed. During the summer, warblers eat a variety of insects, arthropods and spiders, including caterpillars, beetles, ants, aphids, grasshoppers, caddisflies and gnats. In winter, some species of warblers, such as the yellow-rumped warbler (named from the yellow spot on its rump during the summer season) and the yellow warbler (which is entirely yellow) will turn to fruits to supplement their diet. Only the yellow-rumped warbler will eat waxy berries, such as bayberries and wax myrtles, being the only warbler that can digest such waxes and allowing it to winter further north than any other warbler. So how do you lure these colorful songbirds to your backyard? Try a suet block and black oil sunflower seeds because many warblers will eat these seeds in the fall as the insect numbers decline. Just remember to take it inside at the end of the day to keep bears away!

You may also try to find our little feathered friends near rivers and streams, since warblers appear to be attracted to the sound of running water. Yellow warblers often breed in wet, deciduous thickets and are very fond of willows, which grow near water. The common yellowthroat – which looks like it’s wearing a black mask with a yellow throat underneath – can be found in dense vegetation near wetlands. Be sure to keep your ears open along with your eyes – the common yellowthroat is more frequently heard than seen. It makes a “wich-i-ty, wich-i-ty, wich-i-ty” sound, while a yellow warbler’s song seems to say “sweet-sweet-sweet-I’m-so-sweet,” which may be why a group of yellow warblers is called a sweetness! The yellow-rumped male sings a slow whistled warble that can last one to three seconds but consist of 21 individual notes.

Not impressed yet? Did you know that the oldest yellow-rumped warbler lived to be eight years, nine months old? That’s longer than some of our common house pets live. Did you know that while the male common yellowthroats are monogamous within a breeding season, females show no fidelity to their mates and often attract other males with their calls? Or that yellow warbler’s nests are often parasitized by the brown-headed cowbird? But instead of moving away, the yellow warbler builds a new nest directly on top of the parasitized one, sometimes ending up with a six-tiered home! These birds are really something and a beautiful sight to see. So next time you are thinking about a bouquet, try looking up for a change. Happy birding!

Rachel Solomon is a winter naturalist at Walking Mountains Science Center. The Discovery Center is located at the top of the Eagle Bahn Gondola; take a free naturalist-guided hike at 11 a.m. or 2 p.m. daily.


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