Utah County Birders Newsletter
Common Yellowthroat - photo by Jack Binch
by Leena Rogers
Name Roots: (Gr. Geo, "the earth"; thlypis, "a kind of finch"; trichas, "a thrush")
The Common Yellowthroat may be considered “common” by naturalists but on my check list it is a rare sighting indeed. Checking my records, the first time I saw this beautiful New World warbler was eleven years ago, on May 4, 1997. That was the year I started birding. On my first introduction to Skipper Bay Trail, as we neared the north end of the path, we heard the typical “wichity, wichity” call and Tuula Rose helped me locate my first Common Yellowthroat. I eventually found it through my binocs in a marshy thicket along the path. The dark head and the bright yellow throat were dazzling in the late afternoon sunlight. I was totally enchanted. This elegant little warbler certainly made this birder’s day a memorable one! I can picture that moment even now and have been an avid warbler fan ever since. ─ There may have been half a dozen sightings of it for me during the past eleven years. The Common Yellowthroat is one that often remains the “uncommon” bird on my checklist.
I digress, but have to vent regarding my pet peeve about the term “Common.” In my opinion there is no such thing as a “common” bird of any variety. Even the European Starling, of which we have a gazillion in our state, and which fact by itself should make it “common,” has been accorded a lofty name ─ “European.” So why doesn’t our beautiful little Yellowthroat deserve the same respect? Maybe we should adopt the name given to it in the Appalachians, the “Peewee Bird.” Hmmmm, not very satisfactory either. But certainly far better than “Common.” ─ And now I will climb off my soap box!
More about the Common Yellowthroat
The Common Yellowthroat, Geothlypis trichas, is a New World warbler. Small in size, it is just 5 inches in length. Classified with at least 13 subspecies, the Common Yellowthroat varies in plumage, song, and behavior. Throughout most of its breeding range the Yellowthroat ranks as one of the abundant warblers. It winters throughout Central America, northwestern South America, the extreme southern US, and most of the Caribbean islands. During the breeding season, the Yellowthroat extends its range throughout the US and Canada just south of the Northwest Territories. It breeds from April through June.
Preferred habitats of the Common Yellowthroat include marshes, riparian areas, brushy pastures, and old fields. The Yellowthroat seldom visits human habitations; it prefers wild, solitary places. It shares its habitat with birds such as the Song Sparrow and Marsh Wren.
The Yellowthroat is generally an insectivore. It gleans leaves of shrubbery, grasses or weeds for adult and larval insects such as grasshoppers, dragonflies, beetles, butterflies, and spiders. Seeds are sometimes eaten as well. The Common Yellowthroat is beneficial to the farmer because it feeds on many harmful agricultural pests.
The male Common Yellowthroat is easily identified by his bold, white-bordered black mask. It definitely gives him the look of a miniature bandit skulking in the reeds. Studies have shown that Yellowthroat females appear to prefer males with larger masks! The olive brown back of the male seems to make the yellow throat and breast even brighter. The belly and undertail coverts are pale yellow, clearly visible when the Yellowthroat cocks his tail in a manner similar to the Marsh Wren. The male announces its presence with its very loud "wichity wichity” song. It also utters a hoarse tchurr call similar to that of the Marsh Wren, and scolds intruders in its territory.
The female Yellowthroat’s face is highlighted with a white eye ring, but she is very drab in comparison to the brilliant male. She can be rather difficult to identify from other similarly colored warblers by beginning birders. Both the female and the male are curious, lively songbirds by nature, respond well to "pishing" and squeaking, and will often approach closely to investigate such sounds.
The Common Yellowthroat differs from the Kentucky Warbler by lacking a yellow line over the eye. It differs from the Yellow-breasted Chat by being smaller in size, and it lacks the white line extending from the top of the eye to the bill. Both the male and female have a jerky, undulating flight as they dart about in a lively manner in the reeds and brush.
The male Common Yellowthroat attracts the female with its song, and then follows this possible mate around to display for her. It fans its tail, flicks its wings, and presents courtship flights. The Common Yellowthroat is polygynous, but monogamous for one season.
During the breeding season, the female only builds a nest barely above the ground in weeds, cattails, or brier bushes. The nest is a loose bulky cup made with a variety of materials including dead grasses, bark, ferns, sedges, rootlets and hair. The nest is usually lined with fine black rootlets and fine grasses. The parents are very careful about their nests and never fly directly to them; instead they fly to the ground and then walk to the nest. This may be to discourage parasitic birds such as the Brown-headed Cowbird.
Typically, the female lays 3 to 5 whitish eggs with brown to black spots which are incubated by the female for eleven to thirteen days. Young are tended by both parents and the fledglings leave the nest at 8 to 10 days of age. Pairs usually produce two broods in a year, and males will sometimes mate with more than one female.
The Common Yellowthroat is often the victim of Brown-headed Cowbirds. These parasitic birds lay their eggs in Yellowthroat nests. Some host female Yellowthroats will build new nest linings, thereby burying cowbird eggs (Ehrlich et al. 1988; Fisher and Acorn 1998; Terres 1980; Tufts 1986).
The Common Yellowthroat is not on the Endangered Species list. For this beautiful warbler the only threats may be the parasitism by Cowbirds, and the possibility of habitat loss from development of open spaces or wetlands. Although Common Yellowthroat populations are generally stable, regional declines are cause for concern. Two subspecies of the Common Yellowthroat have experienced dramatic decreases in numbers: the nonmigratory Brownsville Common Yellowthroat (G. t. insperata), and the Salt Marsh Common Yellowthroat (G. t. sinuosa) which experienced an 80% decline from the early 20th Century to 1976.
Field Trip Report
Evening Walk in Rock Canyon (May Meeting) - 14 May 2008
by Eric Huish
Because of the great weather and late daylight hours we often replace summer meetings with evening field trips. For the May Meeting Merrill Web led us on a bird walk up Rock Canyon.
We had a great turnout, about 30, with many new faces. Merrill began the meeting with announcements and a Bird of the Month presentation. Then we enjoyed birding in the canyon. By this time the canyon was shady and cool. There were a few Spotted Towhees and Black-headed Grosbeaks singing from the sides of the trail. We got great looks at both. There were also Chuckers 'chuckling' up on the hillside but we never saw them. A Sharp-shinned Hawk soared in circles over us for a while and a Broad-tailed Hummingbird perched atop a shrub for all to get a close look.
Some of the other birds seen or heard in the canyon included; Western Scrub-Jay, Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, American Robin, Orange-crowned Warbler, Virginia's Warbler and Lazuli Bunting.
We are having another evening field trip for our June meeting. Come join
Birding From My Window
by Cheryl Peterson
One morning this month I was sitting at my computer desk when I noticed several small birds fly into my tree. Two of the birds were new for my yard: a Black-throated Gray Warbler and a Warbling Vireo. I have added a total of seven new yard birds this month: Lazuli Bunting, Townsend's Solitaire, Dusky Flycatcher, Hermit Thrush and Green-tailed Towhee. I had been feeling unhappy because I haven't been able to do much birding this year, so this was a lot of fun to have these birds show up in my yard.
While new birds are exciting, my regulars keep me entertained, too. My favorite is the Black-capped Chickadee. The Scrub Jays are a lot of fun. I whistle and throw peanuts out for them and they immediately come flying in. If I don't give the jays their peanuts, they will sit in the tree in front of the window and let me know they are there and waiting. Even my family enjoys watching the "hummer wars".
I guess the moral of the story is that even when we can't go out actively looking for birds, we can still appreciate and enjoy the birds that come to our yards.
Backyard Bird of the
Steve Carr - Holladay
Lazuli Bunting - Lights up the whole yard when the sun hits its turquoise blue feathers.
Yvonne Carter - Highland
I noticed a rustling in the lower bushes and out popped a Green-tailed Towhee and later in the afternoon I spotted a Bullock's Oriole.
Harold Clayson- Salem
Franklin's Gull - heading to the hills in the evening with a flock of other gulls.
Flora Duncan - Orem
Lazuli Bunting - first of May, Yard First.
Lynn Garner - Provo
Four Turkey Vultures flew over our yard. Actually, I was at a neighbor's place when they flew over, but I could have seen them from my place, too.
Eric Huish - Pleasant Grove
I've had Evening Grosbeaks on-and-off the whole month. Starting with a flock of a dozen and lately just a pair.
Olive-sided Flycatcher in my Willow Tree.
Selena & Alan Keller - Orem
Common Poorwill on driveway and two Western Tanagers in the yard for a few minutes.
Milt Moody - Provo
Green-tailed Towhee, for several days running now.
LeIla Ogden - Orem
I was sitting on my front porch when a Band-tailed Pigeon flew past. New yard bird of course.
Cheryl Peterson - Provo
Black-throated Gray Warbler - [See 'Birding From My Window' article.]
Bruce Robinson - West Jordan
Western Wood Pewee - I hope it spends the summer!
Tuula Rose - Provo
A couple of handsome Bullock's Orioles come to raid the hummingbird feeders. Feeding technique: hang on to a branch close to feeder, grab the feeder by the beak, pull it closer to reach one foot onto the feeder, the other still on the branch. Drink dangling spread-eagle between the two. Great fun to watch.
Dennis Shirley - Elk Ridge
Eurasian Collared-Dove - A nesting pair.
Reed Stone - Provo
Yellow-headed Blackbird - not so great a bird, but it does raise my yard bird count to 126.
Bonnie Williams - Mapleton
Hermit Thrush - Hopping along my flower garden one day.
We would like you to share your favorite backyard bird each month. Please send your favorite bird at the end of the month to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-8777.
ABA CONVENTION EVENTS OPEN TO THE PUBLIC
The American Birding Association has invited all local birders to attend and participate in the Tradeshow segment of their annual convention being held at Snowbird this year. The list of exhibitors for this event includes optics manufacturers, bird book publishers, birding and eco-tour companies, as well as ABA Sales (books and bird paraphernalia galore). See this year’s hottest new products, as this convention is where the optic companies unveil their new line of binoculars and scopes – Leica, Swarovski, Zeiss, Bushnell, Kowa, Nikon, Alpen, Pentax, and Leupold will all be there with representatives to answer your questions. The tradeshow will run all day Wednesday and Friday, June 25th and 27th, from 8 AM to 6 PM in the Cliff Lodge at Snowbird. Several local Utah artists will also be participating with regionally and nationally known artists.
Three presentations for birders will also be open to the public: The Legacy of Sundance Preserve (Tracy Waters), The Birds of Forest & Glen (Merrill Webb) and a Hands-on Digiscoping Workshop with several optics companies’ representatives. These free seminars begin at 1 PM on Friday, June 27th and run simultaneously.
Drop by the ABA Registration Table for your free guest pass. This table will be located in Superior A in Cliff Lodge, on the same floor as guest registration.
For more information on the ABA Convention, visit the website at www.aba.org/mtgs/2008snowbird.