It’s a bird. It’s a plane. IT’S A PINE WARBLER!
By Jennifer Taylor, Animal Care Coordinator
Every Spring, Wild Care dusts off the incubators and prepares for its baby season. The squirrels start arriving, usually in March, although they have been received as early as February. We take care of infant opossums, bunnies, squirrels and occasionally weasels. All of the above are easily identified. The only tricky part being red and gray squirrels when they are just a few days old. One has white toenails and one has black – (most of the time).
Songbirds are an entirely different story. Identifying birds is easy when you have your Peterson guide at hand, and you see an adult male songbird wearing his breeding plumage. Everyone knows what a goldfinch looks like right? That is the male who is bright yellow. Females and young birds are much more difficult to recognize. They are usually drabber in camouflage. By early May these baby birds start trickling in. Unlike the mammals, it is darn near impossible to tell what some of these little guys are. They do grow incredibly fast though, hatching to fledging in about two weeks. So after a few days, familiar markings begin to appear. Then suddenly before us, a Gray Catbird or a Chipping Sparrow emerges! It is kind of like a game. Now, we are professionals here, and do have a lot of experience. Most of the orphaned birds we receive are common species that we see on a regular basis, and are therefore easily recognizable at every stage of development. The first thing we do as Licensed Wildlife Rehabilitators is to identify every animal that we take in. It is very important! The natural history of each animal is different, and should be known properly to plan for its care. Diet, habitat and stress levels are pertinent information for each species.
This Summer our most mysterious “Mystery Bird” was a tiny gray fluff-ball we labeled “Tiny Bird #1157”. It was weighed, checked for parasites, placed into a tiny nest cup, and popped into a toasty warm incubator. As it grew day-by-day we thought Ovenbird, Vireo, Yellow Warbler? At some point I confidently labeled it “some kind of a Flycatcher”. It had developed greenish feathers, a wide mouth, and sure looked like a flycatcher to me. Stephanie, our Executive Director thought it was an Eastern Phoebe. Our volunteer Leigh researched it, and narrowed it down to a choice between, if I remember correctly, an Acadian or Least Flycatcher.
To make a long story short I retracted my Flycatcher theory when I witnessed a fly land on the Tiny Bird’s head and it did nothing. Finally it was old enough that its juvenile feathers were in, and we knew it was not going to get any bigger. We noted its behavior, and then it began to sing. It was a Pine Warbler.
Here is a Pine Warbler singing a song very similar to the song our Tiny Bird #1157 sang.
Video from the McCauley Library, Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Photo of our Tiny Bird by Emma Starkweather.
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