Coloring our world

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The Yellow Warbler drops in for summer and adds a big dose of yellow to our wetland areas.

At first glance the male Yellow Warbler is the only bird in America that has an all-yellow appearance.

But closer scrutiny reveals a slight greenish tinge to its back wings and tail as well as a red streaked breast. The female is similar, without the red streaks, and they both have black beaks and short tails.

After wintering from southern Mexico to Peru and east to Guiana and Brazil, these birds arrive in Kentucky in late April and become common summer residents throughout the commonwealth, except in the higher elevations of the Cumberland Mountains.

They occupy a variety of semiopen and open habitats while avoiding mature forests. This family usually can be found near water or low swampy ground, where thickets and young trees become their favorite places to haunt while pursuing their primary food of insects.

The Yellow Warbler is a bird of the middle story, as it almost always avoids the ground and the treetops and is also more people friendly than most warblers.

The Yellow Warbler’s nest is located 3 to 8 feet above the ground and can be in small colonies of 0.4 acres each, if the habitat is ideal or nest sites can be singular. It is one of the principal victims of the Brown-headed Cowbird. However, the Yellow Warbler responds unlike other birds by burying the unwanted cowbird egg along with some of its own eggs under a new nest lining.

Occasionally, a nest is found with up to six layers, each containing one or more cowbird eggs.

The nest itself is a strong, compact cup of firmly interwoven milkweed fibers, hemp grasses and plant down. It is lined with felted plant down, hair and fine grasses.

It takes the female about four days to construct the nest. She then lays three to six eggs and incubates them alone for 11 or 12 days.

By early September, most of the Yellow Warblers will be on their way to their winter home, south of the border.

The Yellow Warbler has a high-pitched musical voice. The song is generally a series of about four introductory "weet" or "sweet" notes, followed by a variable ending, somewhat resembling the quality of a goldfinch song.

This species has been known to sing more than 170 variations of its normal song.

Its dawn song is more elaborate than its other songs, which, holds true for almost all songbird species.

John "James Audubon, the most well known of all bird artists, painted this species at the Falls-of-the Ohio near Louisville in the early 1800s.

Because yellow is my favorite color, you can find me always searching for a glimpse of any bird species that exhibits this bright coloration. However, if it’s the Yellow Warbler that I am observing, it will be in the summertime, because they avoid cold weather through migration.

Sometimes in the dead of a cold winter, I think about migrating myself to search for a warm-climate-type place for a hangout. But I like the changing seasons and know that it won't be too long before glorious spring arrives in the Great Outdoors.


To read more columns about birds by Horace Brown, visit www.SentinelNews.com/recreation. Horace Brown is a civil/sanitary engineer, land surveyor and nature photographer and writer. To contact him or order a copy of Brown’s 2013 Mysterious Night Birds Calendar, E-mail whbrownpelpls@aol.com, call 502-682-7711 or write 527 Main Street, Shelbyville 40065.