Black-throated Green Warbler a Little Sinatra

  • Black-throated Green Warbler Photo: Matt Stratmoen

September 18, 2014
By Luke DeGroote

Adorned with a jet-black bib, sunflower yellow face, and moss-colored back, the Black-throated Green Warbler is a magnificently tailored bird. Though it weighs little more than a few pennies, this diminutive bird’s song can be heard ringing throughout much of the eastern forests. Famed ornithologist Margaret Morse Nice noted this in a 1932 publication. She wrote, “This warbler is by far the most charming singer...and also probably the most untiring. His energy is almost unbelievable.” 

Unbelievable might be an understatement. Nice diligently recorded one male Black-throated Green Warbler as singing 466 times in a single hour. In fact, Nice records that the male was so absorbed in his singing, he failed to notice that his young had hatched and missed his cue to begin providing for the young. Nice wrote that “the excitement incident to the launching of the two infants into the world brought the male to the scene,” and he then began feeding the young. But the next morning he was “busily singing in his favorite grove, while the female was just as busily caring for her scattered family.”

And what are those male Black-throated Greens singing about? Males of nearly all the songbirds are the true crooners and sing either to attract a mate, or to proclaim their territory. In the case of these warblers, the males have a different song for each. A sweeter “trees trees murmuring trees” to enchant the ladies, and a terse accented song of “zee zee zee zo zee” to ward off interloping males. The urge to sing is in fact so strong that rather than being quiet altogether, males whisper the latter song as they approach the nest.

With the breeding season wrapping up and fall migration underway, the sound of the Black-Throated Green Warbler will soon be disappearing from the eastern forests for another winter. Yet there’s still time to possibly hear and certainly see these striking soloists as they migrate south in September. These smartly dressed birds can be seen in nearly any eastern deciduous habitat, from state parks to the maple tree in your backyard.

Photo by Luke DeGroote.

Bird calls from The Macaulay Library at Cornell Lab of Ornithology recorded by Randolph S. Little, Geoffrey A. Keller and Wilbur L. Hershberger.