BIRD OF THE WEEK: July 6, 2018 SCIENTIFIC NAME: Geothlypis trichas
POPULATION: 81 million
TREND: Slight decline
HABITAT: Breeds in thick vegetation, especially in marshy areas. Winters in a wide variety of shrubby habitats.

Common Yellowthroat map, NatureServe

Key: Gold – breeding. Green – permanent resident. Blue – nonbreeding

The Common Yellowthroat is a warbler that behaves more like a wren: bouncing through thick, low vegetation and reeds, rarely far above the ground, and heard more often than seen. A quick glimpse of this skulker reveals a short-winged, short-tailed bird, often with a jauntily cocked tail. The male is easily identified by its black "bandit" mask.

Common Yellowthroat was one of the earliest species of birds to be described from the New World. It was initially dubbed the Maryland Yellowthroat, since it was first found in that state. Its genus name, Geothlypis, means "earth finch," an apt description of its ground-dwelling habits.

This species, like Ruby-throated Hummingbird and White-throated Sparrow, is one of the most frequent victims of collisions with windows and communication towers, often during the bird's nocturnal migrations.

Common Yellowthroat also shares the same vulnerability to climate change and habitat loss as less-common species such as Saltmarsh Sparrow.

Witchity Warbler

The species shows a tremendous amount of variability, with 13 recognized subspecies and many more subspecies that will likely be considered in the future. Subspecies differ mainly in the males' facial patterns and the brightness of their yellow underparts.

Its distinctive "witchity-witchity-witchity" song even varies depending on the bird's location, and many subspecies have distinct regional "accents."


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Secretive Nesting

Male Common Yellowthroats display in flight, somewhat like a miniature Yellow-breasted Chat. During this display, the male ascends into the air while uttering a jumble of high-pitched notes, then drops back down into cover.

Like Golden-winged Warbler and Prairie Warbler, Common Yellowthroat females place their nest on or near the ground. To foil potential predators, parent birds deliver food to their chicks by dropping into the thickest vegetation near the nest, sneaking over, feeding their chicks, and departing by another route. Despite these precautions, it is often parasitized by Brown-headed Cowbirds.

Female Common Yellowthroat, Elliotte Rusty Harold, Shutterstock

Female Common Yellowthroat. Photo by Elliotte Rusty Harold, Shutterstock

Continent-wide Conservation

Although North American Breeding Bird Survey data suggest that Common Yellowthroat populations remain relatively stable, a slight decline of about 1 percent per year between 1966 and 2014 — a cumulative decline of about 38 percent — has been noted.

ABC's BirdScapes approach to conservation is helping counter migratory bird population declines by working in important places to meet priority species' habitat needs across their full life-cycles. For example, to assist Long-billed Curlew and other grassland birds, we're helping ranchers manage their lands for both cattle and priority birds on the northern breeding grounds and southern wintering grounds.

We also focus on the problems of glass and tower collisions, which kill millions of birds each year in the United States alone. Home windows account for nearly 50 percent of all bird collisions, but fortunately, research has identified ways to alert birds to the threat posed by glass. The easiest solution is to apply visible patterns to the outside of the window. Learn more at www.birdsmartglass.org.


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