Brooklyn Bird Watch: Orange-Crowned Warbler

Today, Brooklyn Bird Watch features a Heather Wolf photo of the Orange-crowned Warbler, seen in Brooklyn Bridge Park. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology reminds us that this bird is not the most “dazzling” of the warbler family.  Looking at Wolf’s photo, one might ask, and it’s a good question: “Where is the orange crown?” The orange crown is usually only visible when the bird is excited and raises its head feathers.

The song patterns of the male Orange-Crowned Warbler are so varied that the male can be distinguished from the female easily via its song. Orange-Crowned Warblers have what’s called “song neighborhoods.” A “song neighborhood” is where several birds in adjacent territories learn and mimic each other’s songs. These songs can persist for years.

Orange-Crowned Warblers begin their spring migration earlier, stay later on the breeding grounds, and winter farther north than most other warblers. Food, rather than the length of the day, seems to drive their migratory calendar, as it has been documented that Orange-Crowned Warblers begin to leave their breeding grounds when cold or drought limits the availability of insects.

Audubon says the Orange-crowned Warbler’s numbers are stable and because of its wintering range and habitat, it probably is not affected by tropical deforestation.

Male Orange-Crowned Warblers arrive at the breeding grounds before the females and establish a territory by singing. The males often return to territories defended the previous year. They like to build their nests under overhanging vegetation, on the ground in small depressions, or steep banks, or sometimes in low shrubbery or trees.

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The female Orange-Crowned Warbler builds a small, open cup nest of leaves, fine twigs, bark, coarse grass, and moss; lined with dry grass or animal hair. The male does not help with nest building but accompanies the female closely.

The Orange-crowned Warbler was formally described in 1822 by the American zoologist Thomas Say under the name Sylvia celatus from a specimen collected on an expedition from Pittsburg to the Rocky Mountains led by Stephen Harriman Long. The Latin epithet means “secret” or “hidden.”

The Orange-Crowned Warbler is now placed in the genus Leiothlypis, introduced by the Dutch ornithologist George Sangster in 2008. The genus name is derived from the ancient Greek word “leios” meaning “plain” and “thlupis”, an unknown small bird mentioned by none other than Aristotle.

While searching for sightings of the Orange-Crowned Warbler in Brooklyn, I came across an interesting website called The Linnaean Society of New York where they post a “New York City Area Rare Bird Alert.” From the Rare Bird Alert we know that the Orange-Crowned Warbler has been spotted in Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, New York Botanical Garden, Green-Wood Cemetery, Central Park, Forest Park, and Randall's Island.

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