Most days I see the same birds at my feeders. It varies by season, time of day and weather, but I generally see the same species, usually in about the same numbers. But just when you think you won’t see anything new, a different bird comes along that you haven’t seen before. Today’s special visitor was a single Pine Warbler. It took me an hour of watching him flit around, coming, leaving and coming back again, before I decided on Pine Warbler. Because this was a new bird for me, I took several steps to be sure I had the ID right.
I’ve had a fairly large flock of American Goldfinches every day since late summer. In the past month or so, there have also been a few Pine Siskins mixed in with them. Today I was paying special attention to the Goldfinches because I know they are starting to their spring molt soon, moving from their duller winter colors to their brighter breeding plumage. I’ve even seen a couple with a few fresh bright yellow feathers as they begin their molt. But today I saw one bird in the feeders with them that just didn’t fit.
This little bird was about the same size as the Goldfinches but the coloring was a bit different, with white wing bars without the black, a dark beak and rings around the eyes. Its overall color was a bright olive yellow. It spent its time eating sunflower hearts and suet and sipping water at the birdbath. The suet eating is what originally drew my attention because, none of the Goldfinches have been eating suet, instead eating Nyjer seed and sunflower hearts.
I thought this looked like a warbler, so I got out my Kindle version of The Warbler Guide (The Warbler Guide on Amazon) and started going through the possibilities. At first I thought maybe a Blue Winged Warbler, but the colors weren’t quite right and that bird is an insect eater. I needed one that eats seeds as well. Then I tried the Pine Warbler and it looked like a match. Not having seen this bird before, I was excited but cautious.
Most warblers tend to migrate south for the winter. It seemed a bit early in the year for a warbler, but I checked eBird to see if this ID was reasonable. (If you are not familiar with eBird, you really should check it out. It lets you log your bird sightings and you can also search their database of many thousands of checklists to find other sightings of the same bird or what birds other birders are seeing in various locations.) eBird showed me that there have been a few other sightings of Pine Warblers a little further south of me in Anne Arundel county, where I live.
Then I went on a Facebook birding group for my state (Maryland) and posted a picture of the bird, asking for a confirmation of the ID. This is a very friendly active group and within a few minutes, it was indeed confirmed as a Pine Warbler, one of a few that apparently hang around in Maryland over the winter instead of migrating just a little farther south of us or maybe just a really early migrant coming back. Very cool!
Whenever I see a new-to-me bird, I try to read up about it in field guides, mobile bird apps and online sources. Doing this usually reveals interesting facts about the bird and also helps me get more comfortable with the bird so I’m more likely to recognize him in the future.
This little guy likes to eat insects, fruit and seeds and tends to hang out in pines. (We’ve got a few in our yard, but I think this one was drawn in by the feeders on a chilly day.) They tend to have shorter migrations than many birds and head south later and arrive back in the north earlier. Apparently if you have a warbler eating at your feeder, it’s probably this little guy. The one that came to visit is brightly colored, so I think it’s male. The Pine Warbler page on All About Birds has more interesting tidbits as well as a sound file of their song and call and a short video clip.
I hope something interesting shows up at your feeder today too!
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