Warbler Time at Eliza Howell: Neotropical Migrants

A neotropical migratory bird is a bird that breeds in Canada and/or the U.S. and spends (our) winter in Mexico, Central America, South America, or the Caribbean. Many such species arrive in and/or pass through SE Michigan in May.

Over 2 dozen different species of warblers alone arrive at this time of the year and many, many bird watchers head for migrating warbling hotspots like Magee Marsh in Ohio, Point Pelee in Ontario, and Tawas Point in Michigan.

Warbler chasers come to these hotspots from all over, in big numbers, and with big cameras. These tiny birds (about the size of chickadees) are one of the key reasons that bird tourism is a big business in some locations.

Warblers also pass through Eliza Howell Park, though in smaller numbers. Here are some of the migrating warblers that I tend to see every May in the park. Each picture is of a male in breeding season plumage.

The following photos were all taken by Margaret Weber. My thanks for the permission to use and my appreciation of the quality of the shots.

Blackburnian 2018

Blackburnian Warbler

Blackburnians pass through here on their way to their breeding grounds from mid-Michigan through much of Canada.

 

Black & White Warbler 1

Black and White Warbler

This is one of the few warblers that forages for insects along the branches of trees rather than in the leaves.

 

Chestnut sided 2018

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Chestnut-sided Warblers glean insects from the bottom of leaves. Their breeding area includes much of Michigan.

 

northern parula

Northern Parula

In breeding season, this forest bird is usually high in the canopy. In migration, however, it is often low enough for good looks.

 

nashville warbler

Nashville Warbler

The Nashville Warbler is misnamed. It migrates through Tennessee, but neither summers nor winters there. It breeds in northern Michigan and Canada, nesting on the ground.

 

Magnolia 2018

Magnolia Warbler

The Magnolia Warbler was given its name 200 years ago by an ornithologist who found it in a magnolia tree in Mississippi (in migration). It breeds in the northern forest, far from any magnolias.

 

Am Redstart 2018

American Redstart

American redstarts breed in much of the eastern United States, favoring woodlands with abundant shrubs. I have not yet observed them in breeding season in Eliza Howell Park, but it would not surprise me if I do some year.

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There is not much that can compare with the excitement of seeking and finding these beautiful birds as they near the end of their long migration northward. During their May migration through this part of the country, approximately May 5 to May 20, I spend some time with the crowds at the famous hotspots.

That is exciting, but it is even more satisfying for me to see these warblers right here in this Detroit park. I hope to introduce others to the experience.

 

April Visits from Two Little Kings

These tiny 4-inch birds, smaller than warblers, moving almost non-stop from branch to branch gleaning insects, will be passing through Eliza Howell this month. They are among the very earliest of the species that migrate through the park on their way to breeding grounds further north.

I am referring to the two species of kinglet, the Golden-crowned Kinglet and the Ruby-crowned Kinglet. “Kinglet” means “little king” and is a good translation of their Latin genus name, “Regulus.” The head markings (crown) of the Golden-crowned Kinglet are much more distinctive than those of the Ruby-crowned Kinglet. These are the only two species of kinglet in North America.

All photos below are by Margaret Weber.

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The Golden-crowned arrives first, often beginning in the first week of April, and they have all passed through by the end of the month. It can usually be identified as a kinglet by its size and behavior, and the head identifies it as Golden-crowned.

Golden-crowned Kinglets breed from the Upper Peninsula north, usually building their nests high in conifers. Detroit is at the northern edge of their winter range and I have once seen one in the park in January.

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The Ruby-crowned Kinglet arrives a little later each Spring, usually about the third week of April, and a few can be seen into early May. While they, too, can be recognized as kinglets by size and behavior, the head markings are often not noticeable. White wing bars are usually evident and the white eye ring helps to confirm their identity (taken together with the lack of a golden crown).

When seen from underneath, they do not look particularly like a little king.

ruby crowned kinglet branch

Ruby-crowns also nest from the UP north, typically in conifers.

The red crown of the male is rarely seen, only when the male is excited.

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In the Fall, both kinglets pass through Eliza Howell again, the Ruby-crowned normally starting in September and the Golden-crowned in October.

Those walking in Eliza Howell Park in April (and those coming on the nature walk on April 21) have a quite good chance of seeing one or both of these little kings on their annual spring visit.