Myrtle Warbler in the Spring – What’s in a Name

All winter long Yellow-rumped Warblers are so common here that I plead guilty to almost ignoring them most of the time. Little gray-brown birds with yellow rumps, they fill the trees with check! calls and seem to be just about everywhere.

One morning toward the end of April, though, a male in fresh spring plumage sang as he foraged among the leaves and branches of an oak – suddenly gorgeous, the drab gray-brown of his winter plumage transformed into vivid black, yellow and white – ink-blue-gray waistcoat, black streaks on the sides, black mask outlined in white, gray head with a yellow crown, dark gray stripes on charcoal-gray back, two white wing bars, rich yellow on the sides and rump and – most striking of all – a snow-white throat, identifying him as the sub-species now called Myrtle Warbler, the old name I learned for them years ago, and like so much better.

Myrtle Warblers, found mostly in the eastern U.S. and Canada, and Audubon Warblers, found more in the west used to be considered separate species but now are grouped together into one species and called Yellow-rumped. I’m sure it was a reasonable decision to combine them – but a sadly unimaginative and unfortunate choice for a new name. In fact, it seems to me that “yellow-rumped warbler” reflects the drab winter appearance of these birds and our own rather dismissive attitude toward them – and does little justice to their more alluring and colorful spring and summer lives.

Leave a Reply