published Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

Roberts: Ode to a black-throated blue warbler


by Dalton Roberts

The quickest way to send a birdwatcher scurrying for a new set of binoculars is for a new bird to appear in his feeding area. Like when a black-throated blue warbler suddenly came upon my scene.

I had never seen one, much less had one come into my feeding area. He is a striking thing with electric blue on the back of his neck and down his back. His chest is the whitest white you can imagine. And, of course, he has a spot of black under his chinny chin chin.

Shortly after seeing him, the female appeared and, to my extreme satisfaction, started checking out a bluebird house on the fringe of my feeding area. This doubled my excitement. Not only did I get to see them up close, but it looked like they were coming to stay a while.

That particular box has reeled in at least one Eastern bluebird couple a year since I hung a house there. Some years it has brought me two broods of bluebirds, and one year there was a brood of Carolina chickadees followed by a brood of bluebirds.

Even though I have one of the last famous Sawyer bluebird houses, the simple Wild Birds Unlimited box Mrs. Black Throated Blue Warbler was checking out has attracted more bluebirds than any of the three bluebird houses I own. One is a $45 molded plastic house I bought from Audubon Workshop.

The point is, you never know what birds are going to like. One year I bought an expensive purple-martin house with about a dozen apartments and hung one gourd under it — the only martin I got was in the gourd. Corky Howard lives just past Harrison Bay Road on Highway 58 and has more gourds strung out on his property than I have ever seen, and he says, “It’s the gourds that bring in the martins.”

Back to the blue warblers.

After the female decided she wanted my house, there was one more battle royal to be fought. Two males showed up to vie for her affection and the right to be “man of the house.” Not only does the female decide on the home she wants, she also decides on her mate. The males put on a little fight for her, and she decided which one she wanted by running off the other one.

Once she decided, they mated. It might interest you to know how the sex act goes with birds. The male simply flutters his wings atop the female and secretes male hormones from glands under his wings onto the body of the female. Her body absorbs them, and it fertilizes the eggs. No big deal. Even through the male seems to get into it, the female is quite nonchalant about it all.

I’ve noticed a couple of things about the black-throated blue warbler that are quite different. So far the male has not helped the female with nest construction. The male bluebird helps with twigs and grasses, but the male black-throated blue warbler simply sits and poses for pictures. He strikes poses in all directions while she works her hiney off.

I can’t wait to see if he helps her feed the young like the male bluebirds. If he doesn’t, I am predicting a divorce, and I am prepared to testify for her.

Email Dalton Roberts at DownhomeP@aol.com

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