Blackpoll Warbler

Hey guys, welcome back. Can you believe January is already over! Crazy. Today is the tale of a warbler that holds the record for longest over-water migration of any songbird, the blackpoll warbler. More on that in a minute. The blackpoll is a fairly large (by warbler standards) warbler that in spring looks fairly similar to a black-and-white warbler. I remember some former colleagues of mine in New York having difficulties telling the two apart. They are mostly black and white striped, with a gray back, and a black cap over their face leading a current coworker of mine to refer to them as the “chickadee warbler.” Males and females look pretty much the same except the female lacks the black cap. Pretty straight forward. Well, in spring. In fall? Well, good luck. Fall blackpoll warblers are one of the reasons many guide books are given “confusing fall warblers” an entire section of their own. In fall, they become a greenish yellowish olive overall, have fine streaking on their back, faint streaking underneath, and look a lot like fall bay-breasted, Blackburnian, and pine warblers. One thing that helps is the streaked back and yellowish legs (the legs are dark on the other warblers mentioned.) In NY I was pretty good at fall blackpoll warblers. When I moved to Ohio, I realized that was mostly because there weren’t many fall blackburnian or bay-breasted warbler in Central Park, and my skills were challenged and hampered by second guesses!

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Springtime blackpoll warbler, Gateway Arch National Park, St. Louis, MO

Like many migrants, the blackpoll warbler takes an entirely different route south in fall than they do north in spring. Looking at their range map, you’ll see they are found east of a diagonal line roughly from the Louisiana/Texas border to far western Montana. They winter in the Caribbean and northeastern South America. Meaning even birds that summer in Alaska fly southeast to the Caribbean. In fall, blackpoll warblers fly directly over the Atlantic Ocean to their Caribbean island winter grounds. They make this flight over open water. Some of these birds fly directly from NYC south out over the Atlantic, nonstop to South America. The trip can be 1,800 miles and last up to 3 days. THREE DAYS OF NONSTOP FLIGHT OVER THE ATLANTIC OCEAN. In spring, they tend to island hop through the caribbean to Florida and then up over land. Why exactly these birds make this trip, we don’t really know for sure. Even birds that breed in western Canada will fly east to the east coast of the US, and then turn south to fly over the ocean. Crazy.

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Fall blackpoll warbler. Note the yellow feet and bold wing bars, Headlands Dunes State Nature Preserve, Mentor, OH

In Central Park, the blackpoll warbler’s arrival in spring usually marked the end of migration, as they were usually one of the last migrants to arrive. When i lived in Missouri, and now here in Ohio, they’re arrival seems to not be last, but they do seem to show up later in migration, toward the end of May. Next up is a bird famous from a poem, and one of the most intelligent birds in the world. See you then!

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