BIRD OF THE WEEK: Nov. 18, 2016
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Vermivora cyanoptera
HABITAT: Breeds in open scrubland across eastern North America; winters in forests and scrub.
The eye-catching Blue-winged Warbler resembles the Prothonotary Warbler, but differs in habitat preference. Its genus name, Vermivora, means "worm-eating," a somewhat inaccurate description of the bird's insect-based diet. This genus also includes the closely-related Golden-winged Warbler.
Like other early successional species such as the Prairie Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler numbers have declined due to habitat loss. Along with other migratory birds, they also face threats ranging from collisions with glass to free-roaming cats.
The Blue-winged Warbler's range in North America expanded with the arrival of European settlers, as land clearing and farming created more of the scrubby habitat this species prefers. Its range is continuing to expand northward today, in some cases displacing the increasingly rare Golden-winged Warbler, with which it can breed and produce fertile offspring. These hybrids occur in two distinctive plumages and are known as “Brewster's” or “Lawrence's” Warblers.
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Male and female Blue-winged Warblers look alike, although the female is duller overall. Males arrive on the breeding grounds first and sing their insect-like “beeee-buzzzz” song throughout the spring and summer as they claim and defend territories.
After pairing off with a male, the female builds a well-concealed, cone-shaped nest on the ground or low in a bush, laying three to five eggs in a clutch. After the chicks hatch, both the male and female feed the nestlings and continue to do so after the young birds leave the nest.
Like other Vermivora warblers, the Blue-winged Warbler has a sharply pointed bill that serves as an effective tool for gleaning leaves and buds as the bird hunts for small insects, spiders, and other invertebrates. This species is an acrobatic feeder, sometimes hanging upside-down as it moves through thick underbrush in search of prey.
During the breeding season, the Blue-winged Warbler benefits from ABC's work to create habitat for other early-successional species, including American Woodcock, Northern Bobwhite, and Golden-winged Warbler. The Central Hardwoods Joint Venture, an ABC partner, has restored more than 100,000 acres of woodlands and glades that benefit this bird and other species. (Read more about that effort in the Winter 2013-14 issue of “Bird Conservation” magazine.)
In Minnesota, with funding from the Outdoor Heritage Fund, we have improved more than 2,500 acres of habitat for Blue-winged Warblers and other species of concern.
Our full life-cycle strategy of migratory bird conservation also benefits the Blue-winged Warbler on its wintering grounds in the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America, along with migrants of conservation concern such as the Bicknell's Thrush and endangered Kirtland's Warbler. For example, by conserving habitat on the wintering grounds in places like Guatemala, we can help resident and migratory birds alike.
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