Posted by: atowhee | February 6, 2020


I must begin with a wintery whine.  We in the western U.S. are warbler poor.  If you have ever birded in spring at High Island, Magee Marsh or Pt. Pelee, been to Cape May in autumn, you know what I mean.  During one May stay at Magee Marsh and environs I totaled 34 warbler species seen.  That is more than I will get over decades of birding in California and Oregon.  We do fine with flycatchers, thrashers, woodpeckers, chickadees, wrens, thrushes, gulls and ducks. A Franklin’s Gull, the first ever noted in Florida, caused quite a stir.  One winter a Varied Thrush showed up in Ohio and birders there ooohed and ahhhhed.  Yet Warbler Bereft is a western ailment.  So here I look at our two common Willamette Winter Warblers. At least they come in four or more plumage sets.

First, the Yellow-rumped (hereafter YR).  There are two recognized plumages, the Audubon’s with a yellow throat, the Myrtle with a white throat.  Right now I have both in my McMinnville garden:2myrt (2)AUD1 (2)AUD2 (2)AUD3 (2)AUD4 (2)Aud5 (2)“Auddie”, as I call our lone Audubon’s, has been here since fall.  He is an aggressive loner, bullying smaller birds, pretending larger ones don’t exist.  Auddie never mixes with the Myrtles.  The first myrtle appeared last month, then during a recent snow flurry there were three.
The breeding warblers in Oregon number less than ten: Hermit, Black-throated-Gray, yellowthroat, chat, Orange-crowned, Wilson’s, Nashville, Townsend’s, Yellow.  Most migrate out after breeding.  YR are our most numerous wintering warbler, hardier than most other species and very flexible in how and what they eat, from ground scavenging to fly-catching.  Also, they can use a wide variety of habitats though they tend to nest here in mountain conifers.  Our breeding population in Oregon is largely Audubon’s.  Oregon State ornithologists have collected records that show our winter population is dominated by myrtles that have down from much further north.myhrt-b (2)myrt-a (2)myrt-fine (2)
Sharon Sweeney lives in east McMinnville and sent me these pictures from her feeder. She has had at least three individual Townsend’s this winter.  Two are male with black and yellow markings.  This is a female or immature with green and yellow markings.towa-a (2)
towa-b (2)John Kirk Townsend was a young doctor and natural scientist who came west of Oregon with his mentor, Thomas Nuttall, in the 1830s.  They discovered many species new to science including his namesake warbler.  They first camped with a company of fur-trappers on Sauvie Island and it is time for an Audubon Society to put up commemorative plaque for the two great bird men.  There is an historical plaque along the road but no mention of the two great birdmen.


  1. We live in Corvallis and have three species this year … first arrived the Yellow rumped and then the Townsend (today a second one arrived) and a few weeks ago a Orange crowned Warbler. Its been delightful

    • with climate change I would expect Orange-crowned and Yellowthroats to become more common here in Willamette winters

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