Yellow-rumped Warbler

hey guys, welcome back! Here’s the story, of a warbler species, that may or may not actually be four species. Wait, what? Let me try and explain as simply as possible. Bird taxonomy. Ok, maybe I need a little more info. Here’s the basic rundown. The bird at the time of this writing known as the yellow-rumped warbler, used to be officially considered two species; the Audubon’s warbler, and the myrtle warbler. The two were lumped into one species in the 1970s, and scientists have been debating whether or not to split the species back into two separate species ever since. But wait, there’s more! There are two additional forms of yellow-rumped warbler; the Goldman’s, and the black-fronted, and some scientists argue that these two forms should be considered two (or possibly just one) species separate from the Audubon/myrtle forms of the yellow-rumped. Confused yet? All you really need to know is as of right now, there’s only one species, with different color variations. The myrtle (found in the east and pictured above) is more of a black and white, and lacks a yellow throat, while the Audubon’s (found in the west) is generally more grey and has a yellow throat. Having never birded out west (yet) I only have pics of the myrtle variety.

Yellow-rumped Warbler fall1
Yellow-rumped warbler in winter plumage, Ft. Tilden, Rockaway, NY

Now that that’s all out of the way. The yellow-rumped warbler is one of the first warblers to arrive in the east in spring. In fact, they often never leave. The yellow-rumped warbler can winter as far north as Ohio and southern Massachusetts. In fall and winter, the birds are more of a drab brownish color, but they still have their signature yellow rump! (earning them the nickname “butter butt”) They can survive cold winters, in part, because they switch their diet to primarily eating berries in winter when insects are harder to come by. They love wax myrtles, and are the only warbler species that can digest them. Perhaps that’s where the name myrtle warbler comes from!?

Yellow-rumped Warbler spring3
Yellow-rumped warbler in breeding plumage, Central Park, NY

They can be confusing at times, especially in winter before they molt back into their more colorful breeding plumage. Recently, I came across a few that were across a small pond. I was without binoculars, and saw a small bird that was constantly moving. I knew it was likely a warbler, but the distance and its drab color made it difficult. I actually went back the next day. I still couldn’t quite tell. Then I saw the yellow rump, and I knew what I was seeing! Speaking of the multiple subspecies, I remember coming across a gentleman from the west coast that was on a trip to New York. He was super excited to see the Myrtle subspecies of the yellow-rump! It was cool to see his enthusiasm. The yellow-rump is one of the most common warblers in the east, so to see someone that excited to see one was pretty cool. And on that note, I think we’ll wrap things up today. Next up is our first vireo species! See you all then!

Yellow-rumped Warbler fall3
Yellow-rumped warbler in non-breeding plumage, Forest Park, St. Louis, MO

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