Monday, September 7, 2009

Orange-crowned Warbler... So where is the orange?

Orange-crowned WarblerOrange-crowned Warbler, Hagg Lake, Washington Co., Oregon on 15 May 2008 by Greg Gillson.


Have you seen the violet on the Violet-green Swallow? Have you seen the neck ring on the Ring-necked Duck? Have you seen the orange crown on the Orange-crowned Warbler?

Sometimes it seems that the people who named some of the birds chose the most obscure marks and skipped the obvious. Perhaps that is excusable with the Orange-crowned Warbler. After all, it is an unremarkable little green warbler. It has no contrasting wing bars, tail spots, or spectacles as do some of the other warblers. It has no black throat patch, no stripes on the back, no bright rump patch.

But rather than name this bird the Unremarkable Warbler or the Dull-green Warbler, naturalist Thomas Say searched carefully and found that the base of the feathers on the crown of the male are, indeed, orange in color. He then cleverly chose the scientific species name celata, which means "concealed," in reference to this hidden orange crown.

Orange-crowned Warblers breed in forest edges across Canada and Alaska, and in the West from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific coast, south as far as Texas and nw Baja, Mexico. They winter in the Gulf States and into Mexico.

The population of these birds breeding in the Pacific Northwest, from the Cascades westward (as in the photos above and below) are, if you can believe it, brighter and more colorful than the northern and Rocky Mountain forms, which have grayish heads.

Orange-crowned WarblerDo you see the orange crown now? Orange-crowned Warbler, Hagg Lake, Washington Co., Oregon on 3 May 2009 by Greg Gillson.


These birds are the earliest warblers to arrive in the Pacific NW (not counting Townsend's and Yellow-rumped Warblers, which winter west of the Cascades). They usually start to appear in mid March. They are abundant migrants in April and early May. They start leaving our area in August, and most are gone by mid-October. But some birds may attempt to winter west of the Cascades in brushy tangles near unfrozen water where insects may remain.

You may have these birds visit your yard during the peak of spring migration. However, they prefer to breed in tangled deciduous or mixed woods, usually in willows near water. If you live along the coast or lower foothills in such "woodsy" habitats, you may have them in your yard all summer. But for most bird watchers in the Northwest, finding this bird regularly will require visiting nearby wet streamside woods.