Butterbutts

Yellow-rumped Warbler // Myrtle Warbler

On an average day at Innis Point or most other bird observatories, there is at least one other skilled person present in addition to the main bander (that’s me). Today, though, through fluke of scheduling, no second person was available, and so it was just myself and my two enthusiastic but novice interns. Now, I’m pretty sure that the birds have someone appointed to check the online volunteer schedules and report back to the flock, because almost invariably these days tend to be busier than usual. Today was no exception. Although it doesn’t sound like that many birds, we captured and banded about 45 over the course of the morning, and because it was necessary as the only person capable of independently removing the birds from the nets that I do the full round, as well as band all the birds once we got back with them, we were a little run off our feet today. I had an hour and half nap this afternoon, I was so tired, and I’m still off to bed early (of course, when you’re getting up at 3:20am, bedtime is always early).

Yellow-rumped Warbler // Myrtle Warbler

The most abundant bird in the count area today, by far, were Yellow-rumped Warblers. Our subspecies is the Myrtle Warbler; in western North America the Audubon’s warbler looks very similar but for a yellow throat. At the end of the day I estimated there had been well over 100 Myrtles in the area, of which we banded about 30 of them. The males, especially, are very bright and attractive birds.

Yellow-rumped Warbler // Myrtle Warbler

I stalked one for a while yesterday with my camera (we had an extra hand, so we had a bit of spare time for watching birds between rounding to check the nets). The birds are very busy all morning foraging amongst the young leaves. They’re looking for bugs, whatever they can find. Among the more abundant six-legged critters about at the moment are tiny midges. I just happened to fortuitously snap a photo as this Myrtle snapped up a midge off the underside of a leaf.

Yellow-rumped Warbler // Myrtle Warbler

Yellow-rumps breed throughout Ontario, but they are most numerous on the Canadian Shield. This is largely due to their preference for White Pine and coniferous forest patches for nesting – both of which are less common in the more developed or agricultural portions of southwestern Ontario. We had them nesting in the pines at our Rock Ridge MAPS station last summer, but they weren’t present in other parts of the site. They’re one of the first warblers to return in spring because they don’t go very far south to winter; many will stay in the US, some as far north as southern Ohio.

Yellow-rumped Warbler // Myrtle Warbler

The feature for which they get their name is the little patch of yellow on their rump. Interestingly, they’re not the only species of warbler with a yellow rump: Magnolia Warbler also has a boldly defined yellow patch, and Cape May has a less sharply-defined patch as well. Still, the feature is best known on the Yellow-rumped Warbler, and among birding circles, the birds are often affectionately called “butterbutts”.

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3 responses to “Butterbutts

  1. I have questions about banding — it seems like you are finding tons of birds to band. I live in a rural area and can’t imagine that many birds flitting around my edge of the woods. Are you in some kind of area that draws multiple birds? I observe several birds here but you have so many! Do you have a particular environment that encourages birds? I enjoyed reading your post. Would like to know more about the process of banding and the surrounding environment in which you do your banding. — barbara

  2. Just a couple of days ago, my partner and I enjoyed watching a pair of Myrtles gathering silk from a tent caterpillar “tent” for a nest high up in a pine tree. Very exciting to see.

  3. Warblers are just coming into Innis Point now. Saw the first yellow-rump just a couple of days ago – great photos! (Was a slow couple of days with the cold weather – nine birds banded for a full eight hours – can’t imagine 45!)

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