Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Summer Warblers
Nature Bulletin No. 191-A  May 8, 1965
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Seymour Simon, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation

The swarms of warblers that appear in May -- colorful, ceaselessly active, and bursting with song -- tarry only briefly and pass on toward their northern nesting grounds. In autumn they appear again -- so quietly and so soberly dressed they seem to be different birds -- tarry briefly and pass on. Among those that migrate through the Chicago region, there are only four kinds of which enough remain and nest so that they may be called common summer residents: the American Redstart, the Yellow Warbler, the Yellow-throat and the Oven-bird.

The redstarts, from their winter homes in the West Indies, Central America and northern South America, scatter over the United States east of the Great Plains, and Canada from British Columbia to Newfoundland. It is one of the most abundant, colorful and butterfly- like of all warblers. The adult male is black with a white belly and a striking pattern of orange-red on wings and tail. On the females and young males the black is replaced by grayish olive-green and the orange-red by lemon yellow. Rarely quiet, constantly flitting about, the redstart has a peculiar habit of repeatedly drooping its wings and spreading out its long tail fanwise.

It is a bird that prefers young or open woodlands where it searches for caterpillars, beetles and other insects. It is expert at jumping into the air to catch gnats, flies, moths and grasshoppers on the wing. Its nest, usually in a crotch of a tree or shrub, is a firm deep cup of grass and bark shred woven with plant fibers and spider webs, lined with fine grass, rootlets and hair.

Probably no bird in North America has as extensive a range and so general a distribution as the yellow warbler. It winters in tropical South America and breeds from northern South America to the limit of trees in Canada, from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Also called the Summer Yellowbird, and the Wild Canary, it is our only bird that appears to be all yellow. Singing its loud melodious song from morn til night, it shuns deep woods and tree tops, preferring small trees and brush -- particularly willows and alders near water -- but is also common in orchards, gardens, hedgerows and shade trees. In its nest, beautifully woven of soft materials and silk from caterpillar webs, a cowbird frequently lays an egg. Whereupon the warbler builds another nest on top of the old one, and six-storied nests have been seen. It feeds almost entirely on insects, and this bulletin could be devoted entirely to listing those it destroys; most of them injurious.

The male yellow-throat is olive-green above, with a bib of rich yellow on its chin, throat and breast, and a black domino mask. The females and young birds are duller, with no mask. This warbler spends much of its time on or near the ground, especially near marshes, ponds and streams. It also scours the orchards and thickets for insects, darting here and there like a wren, and is said to be one of the most beneficial to agriculture of all the warblers. Its rollicking song sounds much like: "Whatcha-see, watcha-see, watcha-see!" It builds a loose bulky nest, among low plants or in dense vegetation on the ground.

The oven-bird is a heavy-bodied warbler, olive-brown above, with an orange patch on its crown and black-streaked whitish underparts. On the leafy ground of a deep woods it does most of its feeding and builds its nest: dome-shaped with the entrance on the side, constructed of fine twigs, moss and other plant fibers. It is so cunningly covered with leaves that you would never find it unless you almost stepped on it and the female fluttered away as if crippled. Many who have never seen an oven-bird, or heard his wonderful flight song, are familiar with his common song: "teacher, Teacher, TEACHER, T E A C H E R !

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