This week’s featured creature is one of the few warbler species you’ll see in the Ada area during winter.
The yellow-rumped warbler is a common winter visitor to the area. The orange-crowned warbler is common as well, but to a lesser extent.
I love yellow-rumped warblers, but they can be a bit aggravating for me as well, through no fault of their own.
I enjoy seeing these warblers -- affectionately called “butterbutts,” for obvious reasons -- here in winter. I really do, but my issue with them takes place in the spring each year.
Yellow-rumped warblers are abundant here in the spring, and, when I’m out searching for uncommon and rare migrant warbler species, sometimes seven or eight searches out of 10 result in yellow-rumped warbler sightings. I guess you could include the two kinglet species we have here in spring as well, as they are about the size of some warblers.
It’s not the worst thing in the world, it’s just a bit time-consuming searching out the birds and walking around to identify it, only to discover it’s a bird you’ve seen 100 times during the winter.
Like I said, it’s not the end of the world.
However, I do enjoy seeing these birds just before they migrate north as their breeding colors are quite vivid (photo).
With yellow-rumped warblers, there are two forms in the United States: the eastern “myrtle” warbler and western “Audubon’s” warbler.
They look different from each other. However, the overwhelming majority of birds I see in Oklahoma are myrtle warblers.
The Audubon’s warbler is more likely to be found west of Oklahoma. It is possible to see them here, but it would be rare.
The two were once separate species, but were combined into a single species in 1973, named the yellow-rumped warbler.
According to the American Bird Conservancy, the most recent genetic data suggests that these two forms may actually be separate species. A formal split of the yellow-rumped warbler, which requires a decision by the North American Classification and Nomenclature Committee of the American Ornithological Society, may be forthcoming.
However, I wouldn’t hold my breath as these agencies often take forever to get those things done.
My personal preference would be that they were considered a separate species.
Breeding males are strikingly shaded with black, white and yellow (photo), while females are slightly duller, and may show some brown coloring (photo).
Winter birds are paler, still with bright yellow rumps and usually some yellow on the sides. Males are similar in appearance to females during winter.
The winter range covers the southern half of the United States, from western Oklahoma to Florida.
These birds breed from Alaska through Canada and portions of the Northeast.
In winter, yellow-rumped warblers can be found in wooded areas, streamside woodlands, edge habitat and residential areas.
Yellow-rumped warblers eat mostly insects and spiders during summer, but fruits and berries in winter.
They eat bayberry and wax myrtle, which their digestive systems are uniquely suited among warblers to digest. The habit is believed to be one reasons why they winter so much farther north than other warbler species. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, other commonly eaten fruits include juniper berries, poison ivy, poison oak, greenbrier, grapes, Virginia creeper and dogwood.
Odds and ends
According to the Cornell Lab, male yellow-rumped warblers tend to forage higher in trees than do females.
(Editor’s Note: Randy Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. He has been an avid birdwatcher, nature enthusiast and photographer for more than 40 years. Reach him at email@example.com.)