Masked Warblers are heard in the Piney Woods

By Jay V. Huner
Journal Correspondent

Deer hunters on stands near water in the piney woods south of the Alexandria, Louisiana area are often entertained by a masked songbird. The male Common Yellowthroat has a distinct black mask above its bright yellow throat and below its olive green crown from which it is separated by a white band. Yellowthroats are secretive but give themselves away with their calls - dry "chedp or a sharp "pik". While their distinctive "wichety-wichety-wichety" song is seldom heard in the winter, it is commonly heard in the same habitat during the spring-summer nesting season.

Common Yellowthroats skulk in dense vegetation, especially reeds and cattails. These small warblers are plain olive green on their backs, wings and tails. Females lack the males' black masks but do have less distinct yellow throats. First year males have faint black masks. The overall color provides excellent camouflage. But, yellowthroats are curious. If you think you hear them, make smacking or pisshing sounds or squeaks and they're likely to pop up into view. Of course, if you're on a deer stand, that might discourage deer from coming near you!\par }{\plain Common Yellowthroats are native to the piney woods. Their North American range includes southern Canada and all 49 continental US states and extends into the eastern side of Mexico. There is enough variation amongst them that 12 subspecies are recognized by ornithologists but few casual observers can separate one from another. The subspecies in our region is referred to as the Eastern Common Yellowthroat.

Fall and spring bring thousands of Common Yellowthroats to the Gulf Coast. Most move through to wintering grounds in the tropics or to nesting grounds to the north. However, a good many join the How common are Common Yellowthroats? In proper habitat, folks looking for yellowthroats may find 5-10 in a day of birding. However, during fall and spring migration, yellowthroats can show up in good numbers almost anywhere, even the tops of trees. I once found over 500 in grown over soybean fields near Sorrento in southeastern Louisiana during fall migration.

Yellowthroats are really small. They hug cover because predators like Loggerhead Shrikes and Merlins readily prey on them. They have even been found in bass stomachs! This is not so surprising because yellowthroats forage around the water's edge and are about the size of floating bass lures.

Yellowthroat nests are loose bulky cups of grasses and other plant materials. It takes a dedicated person with sharp eyes to find one of the nests on or near the ground, often in shrubs. The hatchlings are fed a diet of spiders and insects and continue to feed on them through their lives.

Female Common Yellowthroats somewhat resemble Connecticut and Mourning warblers. These birds are seen in our region in fall and spring migration. The Connecticut Warbler is especially rare and birders who report them are almost always mistaking the plain female yellowthroats for a truly prize bird.

Jay V. Huner
Louisiana Ecrevisse
428 Hickory Hill Drive
Boyce, LA 71409
318 793-5529 -