Yellow warbler.  Paul Hurtado

A streak of orange leapt from branch to branch in the hemlock overhead. It was about 20 to 30 feet straight overhead and moved constantly, gleaning some unseen food from the branches.  It was hard to keep my binoculars on the fast-moving bird. If it weren’t for the hunter’s orange patch on its face, throat and down onto its chest, I’m not sure I would have ever seen it. This was a Blackburnian Warbler and one of the most prized birds for me and many other birders. I feel lucky to see two or three each spring.

It comes to western Maine to raise young from South America and Central America. Because of its small size and its preference for staying high in hemlock and mixed coniferous forests, it can be hard to find in spite of its blazing throat.

The bird continued to move quickly, and my neck was aching from strain – a condition birders fittingly call warbler neck. It suddenly stopped its frenetic movement and stared off into the distance. It gave me the perfect view. It had black on top of its head. Its face was a complicated mix of black and orange. I had to force myself to tear my gaze from its bright orange and make note of the rest of the bird. It had a black back and wings with white patch on its wings. Underneath, it was mostly white with streaky black spots. In truth, most of its body was non-descript and looked like many other types of warblers that come to our area. There is no other bird, however, with that orange face and throat. So, there’s virtually no chance of confusing this bird with others. At least that’s the case for the males.

The females, that’s another story. If you look closely, you can see that same complicated pattern on the female’s face, but it lacks the orange. Instead, it ranges from a dull buff to orangey-yellow at best. The female’s chest and belly can be a buff or olive-yellow color. Its back is a mix of dull black and white. It can be very difficult to distinguish from other female warblers. This allows them to hide effectively when sitting on a nest or tending to newly hatched chicks.

Since these birds stay high in dense trees, it’s best to learn their high-pitched song. Go to www.mahoosuc.org to learn more and listen to its song. At Valentine Farm, Blackburnian Wablers have been found in the hemlock forest along the East Trail. Watch for a speck of Hunter’s Orange high in the trees the next time you visit.

James Reddoch, of Albany Township and Boston, leads birding events for the Mahoosuc Land Trust. Visit Mahoosuc Land Trust at 162 North Road, Bethel, ME. To learn more visit www.mahoosuc.org. To contact James, send your emails to [email protected].


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.