Sep 21 2012

Confusing Fall Warbler

Published by at 7:30 am under Songbirds

In Peterson's Eastern Field Guide To The Birds there are four pages labeled "Confusing Fall Warblers."

For years I avoided those pages.  The birds on them are too similar to each other and so different from their spring counterparts that they may as well be new species.

But you can't avoid them.  Confusing fall warblers do show up at this time of year.

On Tuesday this confuser visited Marcy Cunkelman's windowsill.  It's a blackpoll warbler.  I'm guessing it's female.

She looks nothing like a springtime male (left) who has crisp black and white feathers, an all-black cap, a white breast and bright yellow legs and feet.  This bird is greenish yellow and stripe-y (right).

But to me, she fairly shouts blackpoll because:

  • She's the same size and shape as the springtime bird.
  • She perches the same way -- tail down.
  • She has 2 wing-bars.
  • She looks as if she was dipped head first in a greenish yellow wash, then painted with thin gray stripes on her back, chest and flanks.  (The color and stripes are my biggest clue.)
  • Her undertail coverts are white, which fits with the idea of being dipped head first.
  • Her feet are light-colored, not black.  In this case they're orange.

Fall blackpolls resemble fall bay-breasted warblers, except that fall bay-breasted's aren't stripe-y and they usually have a faint pink wash on their sides.  Click these links for views of spring bay-breasted and fall bay-breasted warblers.  The spring birds look nothing like blackpolls!


Here are two more of Marcy's photos to show off this blackpoll's features.

Notice how she has dark legs and orange feet.  The guides say her legs should be light-colored too but her two-tones are very cool.  They remind me of snowy egrets' black legs and fancy yellow feet.

So.. my best tip on identifying this confusing fall blackpoll is:  Think stripes.


(fall blackpoll photos by Marcy Cunkelman, spring blackpoll by Chuck Tague)

p.s.  Her beak is two-toned, too.  What a cool bird!

One response so far

One Response to “Confusing Fall Warbler”

  1. Marcy Con 21 Sep 2012 at 10:02 am

    This was looking “IN MY WINDOW” Can’t get much closer than this, except hard to take a photo thru the window…the other were only 1 foot and 5 feet away…this is how you want to watch birds, inside warm and dry…

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