Black-and-white Warbler and Ruby-crowned Kinglet

A Black-and-white Warbler is a small, slender wood warbler, true to its name, striped all over in crisp black and white. And its song has a black-and-white quality, too. Not musical or flashy at all, it’s a high, sibilant, lisping song – weesa, weesa, weesa – that can easily blend in with the background and go unnoticed. Especially now that the trees are fully out with new green leaves and there’s so much birdsong around.

A Black-and-white Warbler has been singing in the trees around our back yard since the middle of March, and its song is a quiet but definitive part of the scene. It’s like a subtle touch in a painting, maybe not obvious, but it changes everything. 

The song of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet brings a different kind of touch to the scene. A quick, lively little song, it starts with three or four soft whistles and then bursts into a tumble of bright, sparkling notes like bubbles in champagne. It’s a pretty and joyous song, bold and bright, but with a light, elusive, fairy-like quality, as if it vanishes into the air.

While a Black-and-white Warbler is a spring migrant that has recently returned, the Ruby-crowned Kinglet has been here for the winter and soon will be leaving for its summer home much further north. 

Today I was lucky enough to watch each of them, one after the other, in a white oak tree on the edge of our back yard. I first noticed the Black-and-white Warbler when it flew into the tree and sat on a branch and immediately began preening. It moved very quickly, as if it had no time to waste, shaking out one wing and combing it with its bill, then the other wing, and breast, maybe a little on the back or shoulder, feathers rumpled up – it all happened fast. After a minute or two of preening, it began to forage again, creeping over the branches, with its body stretched low and its bill probing for insect prey. Constantly on the move – and pausing often, though only briefly, to raise its head and sing. 

Only a few minutes later, after the Black-and-white Warbler had flown further back into the woods, a very small, gray-green bird flitted its airy way in and out of clusters of leaves, flicking its wings as it went. A tiny bird with a round gray head and face, and a bold white ring around the eye. A Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Its ruby crown was folded down and not in sight, but its gray-green plumage, brightly marked with the white eye ring and white wing bars looked crisp, and its personality sparkled with color. 

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