published Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

Roberts: Rare warblers visit for a season


by Dalton Roberts

For the first time since 1995 I did not attract bluebirds to my nesting boxes this year, but I did have the rare experience of having a pair of black-throated blue warblers. They were fascinating.

I had never even seen a blue warbler in a lifetime of bird-watching. You can imagine my excitement when they moved in with me.

Every kind of bird has some unusual habits and behaviors. The male blue warbler was a different kind of parent, and the female had an interesting way of getting the infants out of the nest.

All the time the female was checking out the box and building a nest, the male just preened. He acted like he was posing for pictures. He’d turn this way and that way and actually struck poses to show off his gorgeous blue body. Unlike male bluebirds who help build the nest, I did not see him carry a twig in the box. Neither did I see him carry food to the female while she was sitting on the eggs. It looked like he was saying, “This kind of menial labor is beneath my dignity.”

I saved the nest and will pour some liquid plastic over it to preserve it. It is a beautifully constructed nest and has more feathers in it than I can remember seeing in any bird nest. It was so warm and cozy I can understand why the little ones were so slow to take flight.

While the preening male took no part in the home-building and egg-setting, it amazed me how he flew into action once the babies hatched.

He hauled more than his share of groceries to the nest every day. I never saw him posing one time after the babies were born.

There were four babies, and two of them took flight quickly. After they left the box, they hung out close to home a couple of days. Both parents brought them bugs, but they caught on to foraging in just a few days before they flew off into the wild blue yonder. Unlike our kids, they swiftly found their own apartments, got their degrees and were out on their own.

Birdlets 3 and 4 were a different proposition. They continued to peep out the hole for a week with their mouths open. To make them want to come on out, Mama Warbler would fly toward the hole and veer off to the side at the last second, leaving them frozen there with their mouths open. Honestly, I could see the confusion in their faces. Their look said, “What’s going on here? How could you miss something as big as my mouth?”

When the wife persisted in such behavior, Papa Warbler actually took them a bug or two, but the mother was clearly determined to force them to hit the road. After three days of such taunting behavior, she coaxed No. 3 out of the box, and it took two more days to get the last one outside and mobile.

The last one appeared to be less coordinated, and it made me wonder if there’s not room for individual differences in maturation among birds as there is among humans.

I really miss my little blue warblers. Sometimes birds return to the same nest. I have high hopes for a reunion next spring.

Email Dalton Roberts at DownhomeP@aol.com.

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Robert59 said...

Great article! You should report these black throated blue warblers on eBird site; most reported sightings nearby this year on eBird have been in the Smokies.

July 12, 2011 at 8:28 a.m.
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