BIRD OF THE WEEK: 10/24/2014 SCIENTIFIC NAME: Mniotilta varia
POPULATION: 20 million
TREND: Stable
HABITAT: Breeding: Deciduous and mixed forests. Wintering: Wide range of forest types, suburban areas, orchards, and coffee farms.

Black-and-white WarblerThe Black-and-white Warbler is the only member of the genus Mniotilta, which means “moss-plucking” and refers to the bird's habit of probing for insects. One of the first migrants to arrive on breeding grounds, the song of Black-and-white Warbler—reminiscent of a rusty wheel turning—is an early sign of spring.

Black-and-white Warblers breed as far north as northern Canada and winter as far south as northern South America. Wintering birds benefit from several areas protected by ABC and in-country partners, including Buenaventura in Ecuador and the Blue-billed Curassow (El Paujil) Reserve in Colombia.

This warbler behaves like a nuthatch, creeping up and down tree trunks and along limbs while probing between bark fissures in search of insects and grubs. With unusually long hind toes and claws, the birds are well adapted to climbing on tree bark.

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These “early birds” arrive on their breeding territories in April. Surprisingly, their nests are usually built on the ground—at the base of a tree, rock, stump, or fallen log, or under a bush or shrub.

Female Black-and-white Warbler foraging. Photo by Greg Homel, Natural Elements Productions

Black-and-white Warblers are still common, though Breeding Bird Surveys indicate a slow and gradual decline in population over the past 50 years. This biggest threat to this forest species is habitat fragmentation, which also takes a toll on CeruleanKentucky, Worm-eating, and Blackpoll Warblers.

As nocturnal migrants, Black-and-white Warblers are a frequent victim of collisions with glass, towers, and wind turbines; as insectivores, they are vulnerable to pesticide poisoning.

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