January 2021 Birds Need Plants Photo of the Month

Common Yellowthroat Playing in the Pickerel Weed © Logan Peralta 10

Common Yellowthroat Playing in the Pickerel Weed

by Juanita Baker, Ph.D.

Common Yellowthroats are one of our most common warblers in North and Central America, in all continental states including Alaska and Canadian Provinces except the farthest northern province, Nunavat.  They breed and the females build cup-like nests at the end of April-June in Florida amongst sedges, reeds, and grasses on or near the ground.  The surrounding plants like these wider-leaved aging Pickerel provide concealment from predators and protection from the sun. Both parents search for insects to feed the young when first hatching. In our IR County according to ebird.org data, there are fewer sightings. There are some scattered weeks with no sightings during July-August after breeding season. Perhaps our birdwatchers are less likely to get out during those hot months!  The Yellowthroats’ twitchity-twitchity-twitch song and various flight, chatter, excited, or “Teek” calls alert us to its lurking amongst the tall vegetation or you might catch a glimpse or hear movement noises of this small bird amongst the reeds.  

We can tell the age of juveniles and season of molt, especially knowing the month when the bird is viewed.  Observe carefully as males and females differ: the black mask wearer with top white edge and forehead is the adult male but no eye-ring with brighter, larger yellow throat and yellow under the tail and olive brown back and tail. The female has no mask, a slight buffy eye-ring, yellow throat and undertail coverts, and similar ochre color breast and light olive-brown back. First-year juveniles are more brownish all over, with no yellow. However, this yellowthroat in Logan Peralta’s photo taken in October has somewhat of a mask, so it must be male. But the mask is just growing, with greyish forehead and only a hint of white forming on the top edge of its mask. Its bill is not black. Thus, this is a Juvenile Male and will likely be fully mature to mate by the following spring.  When identifying birds, look for their species’ key features!

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