Coots and Cameras

Female warbler.  ELAINE CASSIDY

Living in the Lakeland provides one with the opportunity to explore and seek out the nearly two dozen different species of warblers that migrate northward in late May and early June. It’s not uncommon for birders from different parts of Alberta to join in that migration and spend up to a week looking high up into the aspen trees in Cold Lake Provoncial Park or peer into the willows near Hall’s Lagoon.  

While birding a few years ago, a gentleman stopped beside Elaine and me as we were looking way up into the trees.  “What are you looking for?” he asked.  Without hesitation, I replied, “a chiropractor.”

Common among the 23 warbler species that live in our province is the yellow warbler.  An evenly-proportioned bird, with brightest yellow of all warblers as its dominant colour, this warbler enjoys living in cottonwoods, willows and alder trees, often hopping quickly from branch to branch seeking insects for sustenance. 

The face of the yellow warbler is unmarked, making its black eyes stand out. Males have orange or reddish vertical stripes on the chest, while the female does not. Feeding from small trees and shrubs, the male warblers often move to the tops of taller trees to sing songs of merriment and seduction.  

Nesting sites are usually in a vertical fork in a small tree or willow, normally about 10 feet above the ground. The female warbler takes time to go through an elaborate construction of a nest starting with grasses, bark strips and plants. The inner part of the nest is lined with deer hair, feathers, and fibres from cottonwood, dandelions, willow and cattail seeds. A clutch of up to seven eggs may result in a bustling family of warblers maturing to make the journey to Central and South America for our winter season.  

As with many warblers, the population of the yellow warbler has declined by about 25 per cent between 1966 and 2014, with a current population estimate of 90 million world-wide. Loss of critical habitat, mainly willow stands, competition from parasitic cowbirds, and nighttime flight risks such as brightly lit buildings have contributed to the decline in numbers.  

If you are a bird watcher, make it a
personal challenge to identify as many of those nearly two dozen warblers that make their spring and summer home in the Lakeland.  Be sure to take binoculars and have the business card of your chiropractor close at hand. Warble through the Lakeland!