Brooklyn Bird Watch: Common Yellowthroat

Today, Brooklyn Bird Watch features a Heather Wolf photo of a male juvenile Common Yellowthroat.  In the Midwest the adult Yellowthroat is called the “Yellow Bandit”, because of its Lone Ranger-style black mask around its eyes. In Ms. Wolf’s photo of a juvenile one can barely see the faint signs of those dark “mask” feathers beginning to develop around its eyes. The Cornell Lab describes it like this: “A broad black mask lends a touch of highwayman’s mystique to the male Common Yellowthroat.”

The Yellowthroat is considered a “warbler”, and if you are not familiar with bird terminology, warblers are small, active insect eaters found in gardens, woodlands, and marshes.

The Yellowthroat was one of the first bird species to be cataloged from the New World — Swedish biologist Carl Linnaeus described a Yellowthroat specimen from Maryland in 1766.

Sometimes the Yellowthroat falls prey to interesting predators like the Loggerhead Shrike, which is both a songbird and a small fierce predator with nicknames like “the butcher bird” and “the executioner”. The Shrikes like to hang their captured prey, such as frogs, small rodents, and other small birds, on barbed wire fences. A Yellowthroat was also once found in the stomach of a largemouth bass.

We’ve noted before the trait of the notorious Brown-Headed Cowbird to lay its eggs in the nests of other songbirds. Ornithologists officially call this practice “brood parasitism.” A Cornell Lab “Cool Fact” is that Brown-Headed Cowbirds often lay their eggs in the nests of Common Yellowthroats, so the Yellowthroat has developed a few defenses. Yellowthroats desert a nest if it contains a cowbird egg, or if their own eggs have been removed or damaged by a visiting cowbird and they will build other nests on top of the parasitized nest.

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According to Audubon, during nesting the male displays to the female during courtship by flicking its wings and tail, following her closely, and performing a flight display, that is, flying up to 25-100 feet in the air and returning to another low perch, all the while calling and singing.

The American Bird Conservancy points out that the species shows a tremendous amount of variability, with 13 recognized subspecies, and many more subspecies that will likely be considered in the future. Subspecies differ mainly in the males' facial patterns and the brightness of their yellow underparts.

As bird aficionados are already aware, there has been a lot of press as recently as late September regarding the shocking number of migratory birds that were found dead on the sidewalks in downtown New York City after flying into glass windows of skyscrapers.

The Yellowthroat, along with several other warbler species, for some reason, is particularly prone to flying into reflecting glass.


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