Warbling Along: A birding treasure hunt while you stay at home

Male yellow warblers have a yellow-green back and striking red stripes on the breast.

Still looking to pass the time while you stay at home? Have you kept your kids busy with a treasure hunt? Here’s a different kind of treasure hunt to consider. Different kind of treasure. Different kind of hunt. One adults can do with or without the kids. Outdoors.

The Treasure

Interested in birds, but tired of watching backyard birds at your feeder? Why not go on a treasure hunt for birds we see here only one month a year – wood warblers. Warblers are flitty little brightly colored songbirds that, for the most part, don’t live in Ohio. So how can you hunt for them here? You don’t have to go online. Because in May the warblers come to us.

Warblers winter in warm, sunny Central and South America. And breed in the Arctic in summer. How do they get there? They migrate by following age-old paths – called flyways – by instinct. Two of those flyways – the Atlantic and Mississippi flyways – cross right over northern Ohio. It is a long journey – thousands of miles. They start in late winter but don’t get to Ohio until mid-May. Fortunately, they stop here to feed and rest up along the shore of Lake Erie before attempting a crossing.

So, you can hunt for these little treasures anywhere there is a terminal woodland – a strip of trees right along the lakeshore. Like the trees on the cliffs overlooking Lake Erie in Cahoon Park and Huntington Reservation in Bay Village and Rocky River Park – not the Metropark, but the smaller Rocky River city park on the lakefront.

The Hunt

Warblers are little birds – most only 4-5 inches in length, smaller than the house sparrows you see in your backyard. They are most often yellow – often electric yellow – with bright blazes of red, blue, green and orange. Binoculars help if you have them. But they are flitty – constantly on the move from branch to branch. So, you will only get quick glimpses. And may have to watch for a while to see their many colors. However, they sing (warble) sweet trilly songs that are different from those of our backyard birds. So, don’t just look – listen. If you hear a bird song you have never heard before, it might be a warbler.

There are over 20 species of warblers we can see here, each with its own distinctive pattern of colors. For help identifying warblers, watch a 5-minute video at academy.allaboutbirds.org/identify-spring-warblers-with-these-expert-tips. It has close ups of several warblers you can see here – yellow, yellow-rumped, magnolia, blackburnian and black-and-white warblers. Okay, so they’re not all yellow. And, yes, they have cool names.

There are other migrating songbirds you might also see while warbler hunting. Striking orange-and-black Baltimore orioles. Bright red scarlet tanagers with jet black wings. And many more. All very different from the birds we see every day in our backyards. A break in the monotony.

Why not spend some time this May warb-warb-warbling along! Just keep your distance from the other treasure hunters.

Maryann Fitzmaurice

Retired physician (pathologist). Resident of Bay Village. Outdoor and wildlife enthusiast, bird watcher, antiquer.

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Volume 12, Issue 9, Posted 9:43 AM, 05.05.2020