Very Few Yellow-rumped Warblers

This past winter, for the second year in a row, I’ve seen very few Yellow-rumped Warblers here in our neighborhood. This is a big change – and hard to believe. In past years, they’ve been among our most common winter birds. I could always expect to see a good many every day, around our own yard and just about everywhere – and to hear their dry chek calls all around.

In winter Yellow-rumped Warblers are small, grayish birds, not especially colorful, but easily identified by the prominent yellow patch on the rump. As the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds website notes, “Yellow-rumped Warblers are impressive in the sheer numbers with which they flood the continent each fall,” arriving here from their summer homes further north and west. They are considered abundant, widespread, and among the most common warblers in North America. But this year and last, most days I’ve had to look carefully and pay attention to find even one or two, and there were many days when I didn’t see or hear a single one. It’s impossible to overstate just how unusual this is.

In past years by this time of early spring, the gentle, loosely-trilled songs of Yellow-rumped Warblers would be filling the woods and sounding almost like the myriad leaves themselves were singing. Today I could hear only a few here and there. Early in the afternoon I watched four Yellow-rumped Warblers move through the trees around our back yard. Two were in their brighter, more colorful spring plumage – a complex pattern of gray and black with deep-yellow sides and rump, snow-white throat, a black mask, a small patch of yellow on the crown, and white bars in the wings. Some were singing at times, and I could hear their sharp, dry chek calls as they flew from tree to tree. As with all things that become less common, I think I felt more appreciation for them than I might have in years past.

As far as I know, there haven’t been any reports of declines in Yellow-rumped Warbler populations generally or in other places – so this may be something that’s happened just here in our particular neighborhood. We’ve certainly also seen fewer of several other bird species in the past few years – and the complete loss of some – most likely because of increased development in the surrounding area, and loss of habitat. The change is particularly noticeable and dramatic with the Yellow-rumped Warblers, because they used to be so abundant and common here in the winter.

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