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Yellow-rumped Warbler (What Time is it in Nature)

February 7, 2015

Today’s What Time is it in Nature is brought to you by Terra Meares, citizen science volunteer and former intern at Prairie Ridge! Terra is a student at North Carolina State University majoring in Plant and Soil Science with a concentration in Crop Biotechnology.

The winter birds are lively and jubilant here at Prairie Ridge, darting around and enjoying the beautiful weather!  Between the cheerful chirps and fluttering activity, the colorful yellow flashes of the Yellow-rumped Warbler are easy to spot and a wonderful sight to see!

Yellow-rumped warbler

The Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata) is from the wood warblers family or birds and is large compared to most.  They range in size from 5-6.5 inches in length and have a wingspan of about 8-10 inches.  These warblers have a long and narrow tail that is 2-3 inches long and a sturdy half-inch long bill.  The most notable characteristic of the Yellow-rumped Warbler is in it markings.  In winter, these birds are pale brown with a bright yellow rump, just as their name suggests.  However, during the spring these birds will molt, turning shades of gray and black with bold flashes of white and bright yellow markings on their rump, sides, and face.  As with many bird species, the males are more striking while the females tend to be duller in color.  Males also have a signature soft and slow warble or trill consisting of up to 21 notes that lasts for about 1-3 seconds.

In the summer, the Yellow-rumped Warbler can be found mainly in coniferous forests and mountainous areas, especially in the western US and Appalachian mountains.  In the fall and winter they will move to open shrubby areas such as parks, residential areas, and dunes.  These warblers can also be found in tropical regions during the winter, where they frequent mangroves and shade coffee plantations.

Compared to other warblers, the Yellow-rumped species is a versatile forager.  Their main source of food is insects such as caterpillars, leaf beetles, weevils, ants, aphids, grasshoppers, gnats, and even spiders.  In fact, they will even grab insects off of manure or from spider webs!  However, most of the time these birds hunt for insects from tree canopies, catching them in midair while in flight.  Another staple food source for this warbler is berries, especially during the winter months.  They eat a variety of fruits that include poison ivy, poison oak, juniper berries, and grapes, however this particular warbler has a special feature that the others do not.  The Yellow-rumped Warbler can eat bayberries and wax myrtles due to their unique gastrointestinal trait that allows them to digest the waxes found on these fruits.  This feature provides them with a wider area to travel during the winter months, allowing them to fly further north than the other species, where these berries are abundant.

The Yellow-rumped Warbler breeds in monogamous pairs.  The males court the females by fluffing their colorful feathers, fluttering about, and through their calls.  The females build the nests, which are shaped like cups about 3 to 4 inches across and 2 inches deep.  The females use twigs, pine needles, grasses, rootlets, and even animal hair or moss to build these nests, which takes about 10 days to make.  Warblers tend to build their nests upon a horizontal branch anywhere from 4 to 50 feet from the ground in conifer trees that include hemlock, spruce, pine, and Douglas firs.  On average, these birds will lay 4 to 5 creamy white eggs with brown and gray specks twice a year.  When the nestlings arrive, both parents take responsibility in feeding them.

Prairie Ridge is a great place to check out the colorful Yellow-rumped Warbler!  You will most likely find them near the bird feeding station below the Outdoor Classroom and in the Arboretum.  You can also attend a Citizen Science Saturday walk where we track bird sightings for eBird in the winter and look for nests, eggs, or baby birds for NestWatch in the spring!

What Time is it in Nature is a weekly feature highlighting the current plants, animals, and other wildlife at the Museum’s public outdoor facility, Prairie Ridge Ecostation. Find out more about the natural happenings at Prairie Ridge at our What Time is it in Nature Archive!

(Photo by Chris Goforth)

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