March of the Butter Butts: Wildlife Wednesday, March 2020

‘Butter Butt’ is the affectionate nickname given by birders to the songbird, Yellow-rumped warbler, Setophaga coronata.  I’ve been fortunate to host at least one Yellow-rumped warbler each winter for the past few years.  These attractive warblers, muted in color when I see them in winter, are widespread throughout North America.  My home in Central Texas is in the middle of their geographically wide migratory path; many  overwinter here.

“My” little Butter Butt–and I think it’s the only one this winter–is a female, a member of the “Myrtle” subspecies.  There are two subspecies of Yellow-rumps:  “Myrtle”  warblers, from the eastern half of North America and “Audubon’s” warbler, from western areas.  The primary distinguishing features between the two subspecies are that the male Myrtle has a white throat and black mask across the eyes, while the Audubon’s throat is yellow and has no black mask.  There are other differences too, mostly in amount of white between the males and females on the wings and faces.

I’ve identified my Yellow-rump as female.  She lacks the black mask across the eyes that a male Myrtle Yellow-rump warbler wears.  Even without the mask and the bold coloring, she’s still very cute.

When Butter Butts molt (in late spring) their coloring is quite dramatic. You can see  photos of these beauties in their finest feathered forms, here.   Even without the dramatic breeding colors, I think this little bird qualifies as a head-turner in the looks department.

I typically see her at the suet feeder, or bathing in the bog area of the pond.  Plus she frequently forages along the ground in the garden; I have no clue what she noshes under the plants.  Seeds?  Insects?  Probably both!  Yellow-rumped warblers enjoy the widest menu choices of any warbler species.  They eat a huge variety of insects, gleaning those with their pointed beaks from trees and snatching with expertise during flight.  These warblers stand alone–maybe I should say they digest alone–with their consumption of bayberry and wax myrtle berries; no other warblers digest those two berry species.  Ornithologists believe that Yellow-rumps ability to eat the two widely available berries allows them to overwinter farther north than most other warblers. 

I’ve observed scads of little songbirds flitting in my trees and always assumed they’re eating parts of leaves or spring flowers with pollen, and maybe, some insects. But in observing this Yellow-rump as she hops along the limbs and darts through the leaves, it’s clear that she’s focused on insects, rather than nibbling at vegetation for her meals.  Ms. Yellow-rump is a bundle of energy, constantly in movement:  up, down, and all around.   I haven’t witnessed any bug-munching, but most afternoons when I look for her, she’s there, in the trees, hunting for protein.

According to Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Yellow-rumps forage on the outside branches of trees and along those limbs in the bottom third of the tree.  That’s exactly where I’ve noticed my warbler and thank goodness for that!  She’d be even more difficult to observe if higher up in the trees.

In winter, Yellow-rumped warblers spend their time in mixed arboreal landscapes–those areas with plenty of trees and fruit-bearing shrubs, like parks and urban gardens, all good habitats brimming with the needed munchies.  In their breeding areas, far north from Central Texas, they concentrate on insect eating, but easily switch to fruits, if available.  Yellow-rumps nest in coniferous trees, the female building the chicks’ homes along branches.  Both parents feed the chicks, which fledge within two weeks.  They grow up so fast!

These hardy warblers are adaptable, which is why their populations are relatively stable.  That said, it’s always a good when gardeners plant for birds:  native plants are best to provide berries and seeds, to provide cover for protection, and to provide a rich, diverse garden habitat.   Also, habitats free of insecticides is a must, since many birds (not only warblers) require insects for themselves and their offspring.

 

And there it is–the famous, often talked about, but only briefly glimpsed–yellow rump!

The flash of that bodacious booty is easily visible–at the correct angle, with tail feathers up–as they bop around the ground or zoom through trees, but catching these busy birds to photograph their famous bums is a little trickier. It requires patience and some good luck.

For more great information on this charming songbird, check out the Cornell Lab of Ornithology or Audubon’s site on the Yellow-rumped Warbler.

What wild things are in your garden?  Please share and leave a link when you post a comment–and happy spring and wildlife gardening!

Bird Parade: Wildlife Wednesday, June 2018

The month of May sees the peak of spring neotropical bird migration as they wing through Texas from Mexico, Central and South America, and head northward to various parts of North America.  Their destinations are the summer breeding grounds of far North America, and as they travel the long distances, they rest and feed in trees and rejuvenate in water features, both.   I was fortunate to observe some of the avian visitors in my back garden before I left Austin for a chunk of May, and once I returned, witnessed the tail-feather end of the songbird parade, replete with color and decorations, as they bathed briefly at the pond and flitted high in the trees.

Celebrating Wildlife Wednesday, here are the migratory birds of the past month, no longer in my garden, but hopefully safely raising families in their northern, summer homes.  I’m not going to pretend that this month’s WW is anything but birds.  The migratory birds are gone, but not forgotten!

A female juvenile male American RedstartSetophaga ruticilla,  eyes the pond, ready for a cooling dip.

I suspect that there were more Redstarts when I was gone, as they’ve been solid visitors, even into late May.

 

A male Yellow WarblerSetophaga petechia, hops along the rocks which border the pond,

…then chills his toesies on the the wet rocks.

 

Several juvenile White-crowned Sparrows, Zonotrichia leucophrys, hung out near (you guessed it!), the pond.

Each would splash and flutter, then flit to nearby branches for drying.

Eventually, an adult White-crowned visited my backyard bird resort, though he/she preferred pecking at seeds on the back patio. I haven’t seen this bird in my garden before (that I’m aware of), I’ve only seen photos, but recognized it immediately.

 

A sunny afternoon highlights the coloring of this Russet-backed Swainson’s ThrushCatharus ustulatus.

 

On another day and at the pond,  a different bird, an Olive-backed Swainson’s Thrush contemplates a splash.

The frontal coloring is more aligned with its Russet relative.  I think these birds have the sweetest faces.

 

There’s nothing common to me about the Common YellowthroatGeothlypis trichas,  like this cute male.

The flash of yellow darting through the garden alerts me to visits from this little warbler.  Usually, I’ve the females in past migration seasons and they’re a little blander, but still darling.  Like the Redstarts, I’ll bet there were more of the Yellowthroats in my garden while I was gone.  I’m sorry I missed them this spring, but I’ll have another chance in the fall.

 

Another new bird for me was a parade of Nashville WarblersOreothlypis ruficapilla. This isn’t a great shot (taken from indoors), but you can make out the reddish-brown cap, sported by males.  There were quite a few of these tiny birds who found their way to my back garden.

Check out the polite line-up of Nashvilles as they troop to the public bath!

 

With their vivid fusion of blue, green, yellow, and red, male Painted Buntings seem to have flown straight out of a child’s coloring book.

So begins the description of (perhaps) the most beautiful of North American birds. I was fortunate to enjoy quite a few sightings of male Painted BuntingsPasserina ciris.

I also saw a female Painted Bunting, along with her seed-pecking buddy, a female Indigo Bunting, but they were just outside a window, through a screen and I didn’t have the camera handy.  Their nibbling from my native plants (they were eating seeds of the Rock rose, Pavonia lasiopetala), affirms my garden choices.  As well, I observed male Painted Bunting picking the tiny seeds from a Mexican feathergrassNassella tenuisima.  I’ve always loved this plant,

The blue, metal bird doesn’t eat the seeds of the Mexican feathergrass.

… but have never witnessed a bird eating its seeds.  Beauty, plus value for wildlife–that’s a garden win!  

Unlike most of the birds profiled in this post who breed far north of Texas, the Painted Buntings and the Summer Tanagers, breed relatively close to Central Texas.  Both visit my gardens, but only for brief periods.  This female Summer TanagerPiranga rubra, is an insect hunter and each late April and early May, I see them, perched above my honeybee hives, snatching bees on the wing (both the birds and the bees)!

This striking, but mottled fella is a juvenile male Summer Tanager.  I didn’t see the scarlet male this year.  Too bad, but I was thrilled to host mom and her son–except for the bee-eating thing!

 

The “black-throated” part of the name is visible, but you can’t see the green sheen on the back of this Black-throated Green WarblerSetophaga virens.

It’s a bird I first saw last year and enjoyed only a brief glimpse of this spring.  It migrates and breeds in eastern North America and Canada.

 

My winter-visiting Orange-crowned WarblerOreothlypis celata, left some time ago, but another passed through, probably having spent the winter somewhere further south of Austin.

The Orange-crowned Warblers aren’t the flashiest of warblers, but I’m charmed by their chirps and welcome their company during the winter.  I was surprised at observing this one so late in the season.

And those are the birds of  migratory May.

What wildlife happenings did you share in or observe this past month?  Please post about your wild happenings and leave a link when you comment here.  Happy wildlife gardening!