Wonderful Warblers

Naturalist Don Scallen explores the many species of Warblers found in Ontario; though if you want to see them, you’ll have to leave suburbia.

June 15, 2023 | | Notes from the Wild

Warblers occupy a rarified status among birders. It’s fair to say that these colourful birds are the main draw at birding meccas such as Point Pelee and Rondeau Provincial Park in spring.

But it may come as a surprise that many species of warblers live with us in Headwaters. We have black-throated blue and black-throated green, black and white, blackburnian, yellow, blue-winged, mourning, Nashville, Canada and hooded warblers. And we have warblers that aren’t named “warbler”: ovenbirds, yellowthroats, waterthrushes, redstarts. The list goes on.

Hooded Warbler, male. Photography by Ian Jarvie.

Yellow Warbler. Photography by Ian Jarvie.

And though a few warbler species will subsist for a time on berries, their appetites are usually sated only by insects, and this is another reason they give towns a wide berth. Homo sapiens generally deplore insects. We limit their numbers by keeping our landscapes neat and tidy and we eliminate sources of standing water where many insects are birthed.  

If you’re wondering why you don’t often see these exquisite birds, the answer is habitat. Warblers shun our towns. Even our treed parklands lack warbler appeal.

American Redstart, male. Photography by Ian Jarvie.

Photographer Douglas Tallamy catches a close up of a Black-throated Blue Warbler feeding its chicks.

What they seek – what they absolutely depend on – are wild, often unruly places, filled with unkempt tangles of shrubs and vines. Many species nest on or near the ground. Attempting to do so in suburbia would be suicidal. Their homemaking can only succeed where abundant cover is available.

Blackburnian Warbler, male. Photo by Robert McCaw.

Chestnut-sided Warbler, male. Photo by Robert McCaw

Of course, there is an irony to all of this. People generally love warblers and go to great lengths to see them. But we also sanitize our living spaces to such a degree that these astonishingly beautiful creatures simply can’t exist near us.

So if you want to see warblers here in Headwaters, travel out of town to areas of verdant disorder, fecund wetlands and myriad insects. Listen for the warblers’ varied and lovely calls – you should be able to hear them above the buzzing of the mosquitoes.


About the Author More by Don Scallen

Don Scallen enjoys sharing his love of nature through his writing and presentations. Check out his blog "Notes from the Wild".

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Canada Warbler. Photo by Robert McCaw.

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