Sunday, July 12, 2009

Hooded Warbler

It's time for a bird on this blog, and today's featured feathered creature is a doozy. Of the 38 species of warblers that breed east of the Mississippi, few can compare to the Hooded Warbler in pure pizzaz. I suspect Hoodeds rank high in the overall stats of people's favorite warblers, and with good reason.

Today, I had the opportunity to spend about five hours tromping some rugged forested terrain in southeast Ohio with Kelly Williams-Sieg, who is studying several species of forest birds as part of PhD program research at Ohio University. We found plenty of Hooded Warblers, one of her target species. Part of Kelley's work involves close study of foraging birds in an effort to determine energy expenditure as it relates to feeding, so we were watching these gold and black stunners closely, and had some outstanding observations.

Beautiful male Hooded Warbler, photo courtesy Jim Paris and Flickr. Few birds get birders excited like Hooded Warblers; just watch the crowd reaction at a place like the Magee Marsh Bird Trail if an obliging Hooded makes itself known to the masses. But they are very common breeders in the large forested tracts of the southern Ohio hill Country. We had perhaps a dozen today in a relatively small area, and at one point four males could be heard singing from the same spot.

This is prime turf for Hooded Warblers. Rich eastern deciduous forest; mature overstory canopy with dense shrubby understory. The warblers generally stay low, and even though they are often at eye level, Hoodeds are not the easiest birds to spot due to the thick vegetation that they inhabit. Supposedly, they have the largest eyes, proportionately, of any warbler, an adaptation to better see in the perennial gloom of their shady haunts.


I made this video of one of our birds from this morning; it shows a male Hooded Warbler strutting his stuff. Note the chronic tail wagging and pumping, a distinctive characteristic of this species. Each time he flicks and fans that tail, the large bold white spots flash like beacons. There's a reason for that; check the next video.


In this video, we see a male Hooded Warbler foraging in thick undergrowth. I think of their feeding strategy as a shock and awe style of hunting. Essentially, they are like small feathered bulls in an insect filled china shop, raging about and literally spooking bugs from their hiding spots with their rapid movements and bright tail flashes.

Watch an actively feeding Hooded Warbler, and it won't be long before you'll see it make a short sallie out to flycatch a winged insect that it probably spooked from hiding. Such as the moth above, which I also photographed today. I don't know the species and haven't had time to research it, but this moth certainly seems to be some sort of dead leaf mimic. That ploy probably works well, but should our raging yellow bull happen through, I'd about guarantee this moth would flush. And make another meal for the Hooded Warbler.


Anonymous said...

you're right--last weekend we happily watched a pair for about an hour foraging along Clear Creek rd in the early evening and after a long day of birding it was a great treat to end the day with them (will you little buggers sit still for a minute???)
-Jim and Auralee

Dave Lewis said...

Outstanding warbler shots!