Bird of the Week

Photo courtesy Charles Martinez

This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the Virginia’s warbler.

The “Virginia” in this bird’s name has nothing to do with location. It’s range is limited to the southwest, breeding most commonly in Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico, and spending winters in thorn scrub and deciduous forests in the mountains of Mexico. According to Partners in Flight, this warbler has experienced a population decline of 46 percent in the last 50 years for reasons not well understood.

The Virginia’s warbler breeds in pinyon-juniper or oak forests with scrubby, steep slopes. Its nest is built on the ground and subject to cowbird parasitism. During breeding season, they are generally found only in pairs, but during migration and in winter, they live in mixed species flocks with other warblers.

Virginia’s warblers are gray overall with bright yellow patches on the chest and under the tail. A bright, white eye ring and thin, pointy bill are characteristic. Males, and sometimes females, have a patch of chestnut-colored feathers on top of the head, but these are not always displayed.

Males sing on their breeding grounds, but by mid-July songs cease and only contact “chip” calls are heard. These birds don’t sit still for long, hopping from branch to branch within a shrub while wagging their tails. Here they pick insects and spiders from deciduous vegetation. Virginia’s warblers never occur in coniferous forests without deciduous trees.

Forest management practices which remove the shrubby understory have negative impacts on nesting sites.

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