Yellow-rumped Warblers

Early this afternoon a Hermit Thrush called from trees on the edge of the woods around our back yard. A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker flew to the trunk of an oak, a juvenile, with a ruffled look all over, and no red showing on its throat or crown, but a white and brown striped face, and a bold white bar down the wings.  

Red-bellied Woodpecker, Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, Carolina Wren, Northern Cardinals and an Eastern Towhee all were calling now and then – on a warm, windy afternoon with low white clouds blowing fast across a gray sky. The landscape has become multi-colored, confetti-like, with green and brown and orange oaks, yellow sweet gums and tulip poplars, coral-red dogwoods, and leaves blowing and showering down.

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker didn’t stay long, but a Ruby-crowned Kinglet flew into the oak and began moving quickly through the leaves in its flickering way, a tiny, gray-green bird that looked especially green and crisp today, with hints of yellow in the flicking wings, a bright white ring around its eye and a small white wing bar. 

Meanwhile, in the oaks all around the yard, lots of Yellow-rumped Warblers flitted from spot to spot, scattering their check calls as they searched for food. I watched one move along a branch, methodically pecking at the branch as it went. Now and then one flew up to capture an insect in the air. Yellow-rumped Warblers are little gray birds, looking very nondescript in winter plumage – brownish-gray, with touches of yellow on the sides, and a bright yellow rump that can be hard to see when their wings are folded, but shows up especially when they fly. 

I’m especially happy to see them because the past two or three years the number of Yellow-rumped Warblers here in our neighborhood has been far fewer than in the past. While there used to be so many they seemed to be everywhere, last winter on many days it was hard to find more than a handful. So it’s very encouraging to see so many here this fall – not only around our own yard, but also in other parts of the neighborhood. It felt joyous just to stand and watch them, as if a part of life that had been missing had returned. 

Yellow-rumped Warblers are known for arriving each fall in very large numbers across much of the central and southeastern U.S. They are still described as widespread, and the most common winter warbler in North America, with no special concern for their populations. So I don’t know why I have observed such a dramatic drop in their numbers here in our own neighborhood in recent years – and I’m hopeful that this year they’ll continue to be abundant as the season goes on. 

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