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The Yellow-Rumped Warbler (I did not make this up)

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The Yellow-Rumped Warbler (I did not make this up)

A Bird in Hand

Yes, you read that right: the Yellow-rumped Warbler. This bird’s name goes to show that the American Ornithological Association folks spend too much time with birds and not enough time with other people. I mean really, yellow-rumped? Why not call this poor bird the Yellow-crowned Warbler (one of its original names), or the Black and Yellow Warbler, or even better, the Yellow-patched Warbler? Why focus on the… um... rump? It causes me to wonder how ornithologists view people. 

In the end (pun alert!) I suppose it doesn’t really matter, because the bird does sport a yellow rump. According to bird physiology the rump is the posterior portion—in this case, the top—of a bird’s body, above the tail and below the back. And this bird’s yellow rump is a distinctive field mark. Indeed, if you see a smaller, sparrow-sized bird flitting in a tree with a bright yellow patch above its tail, it will be a Yellow-rumped Warbler. As a side note, the Northern Harrier, a sometimes less than distinctive bird of prey, can also be identified by the color of its rump. The Northern Harrier has a prominent white patch that definitively identifies the bird anytime of the year. 

Where might you find a Yellow-rumped Warbler in our area? Just about anywhere. My experience has been that they seem to prefer deciduous trees like cottonwoods and willows. They are insectivores and you’ll often see them ‘hawking’ – fluttering out from a branch to grab a passing insect from the wing. They also have a distinctive call and one that you’ve probably heard a dozen times without knowing whom the soloist was. To my ears I hear a high trilled and rapid hurry-hurry-hurry-hurry-hurry or similarly, churry-churry-churry-churry-churry, etc. If you need something more specific, go to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website and find the audio link there. But make sure you pick the one for the Audubon Warbler. And that brings us to the rest of the story. 

As a specie the Yellow-rumped Warbler is currently a combination of two closely-related birds: the Audubon Warbler and the Myrtle Warbler, both considered two facets of the same jewel. I say currently because these folks might change their minds again and make each variety its own separate specie. But who knows, considering what I mentioned in the first paragraph. Enough said. Conveniently, the Audubon summers in western North America whereas the Myrtle makes claim on the eastern half of the continent, though both varieties spend their winters in Central America. So, what’s the difference between the two varieties? 

The Audubon is the one that you’ll see around here. The male is the most distinctive and will probably be the one that gets your attention. He is predominantly steely blue in color, though he might appear almost black. And he is covered with yellow patches: on the top of his head, under his throat, on the both sides of his chest under the wings, and, of course, the rump. The bird I drew for this article (view it on our website) sits in such a way as to show off all the patches simultaneously, though you probably won’t see this on a bird in the field. But you’ll definitely see yellow somewhere. Here is a very pretty little bird. The female is more modest in her coloring, favoring earth tones, a streaky breast, and fewer yellow patches. But that yellow rump will still be there. As a point of reference, the Audubon’s eastern cousin, the Myrtle Warbler, trades the yellow throat patch for a white one and adds a dashing white eye-stripe to the combination. 

I’ve had readers write me to complain that they often don’t see the birds that I write about and claim to be common. I am sure to get another round of complaints with the Yellow-rumped, which is a very common variety of bird during the summer. There are two things to keep in mind when out birding. First, birds are common in a specific habitat. For instance, you look at a distribution map for Yellow-rumped Warblers, and or any other “common” specie, and the entire Northwest region, for example, will indicate the existence of the bird. But you never see them. Why not? Because common means within each species specific habitat. For example, Wood Ducks are very common across North Idaho, but only in their preferred habitat: small ponds and slack water near stands of tall trees. Go to the habitat and then you will find whatever it is you are looking for. 

Second, birds will instinctively and actively avoid you. In their world they are the prey and anything bigger than them is potentially a predator. By nature most birds are skittish and quick to flee. Who can blame them? So when you do decide to go out and add to your birding life list, wear natural colors like brown and green, and try to blend in. Find a likely spot and then simply remain still and silent. After about ten minutes the birds will begin to appear. They were there the entire time, but your chancing upon them made them hide. Once you become part of the background they’ll get back to making a living. 

Drop me a line and let me know how it goes. Happy birding! 

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Author info

Michael Turnlund Michael Turnlund is a Sandpoint resident who teaches at Clark Fork High School. An avid birder, he's happy to share his knowledge of the area's avian wildlife

Tagged as:

birds, birding, Northern Harrier, A Bird in Hand, yellow-rumped warbler

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