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Spring Warbler migration

Northfield is in full color: blue phlox and false-rue anemone are in bloom, the wild plums are on display and hundreds of brightly-colored tropical birds are finding a temporary home in the Cowling Arboretum. 

Warblers are pint-sized songbirds that belong to the family Parulidae. Most are neotropical migrants, traveling every year from wintering grounds in Central and South America to breeding grounds in the far north. They are a joy and a challenge for birders everywhere — their sweet songs and brilliant plumage are a welcome sign of spring, but these active, tiny birds are often difficult to spot in dense spring foliage. 

Around 30 of North America’s 54 warbler species migrate through the Arboretum. The show begins in mid-April with large flocks of yellow-rumped warblers. By early May, chattery yellowthroats and Tennessee warblers arrive. Some of the most brilliantly-colored species arrive later in the season, from the fiery Blackburnian warbler to the magnolia and chestnut-sided warblers. 

While most of these songbirds only pass through Northfield on the way to Canadian boreal forests, a few spend the summer here. The yellow warbler — a lemon-yellow bird with a distinctive sweet-sweet-sweet call — will nest in streamside shrubs and trees in the Arboretum. The lively American redstart will join them, nesting in woodlands here before migrating south in September. 

The other few dozen species will leave as quickly as they arrived in a flurry of color and movement. If you have time — and a careful eye —  over the next few days, you may be able to catch a glimpse of these tropical wonders before they are gone. 

Sydney Marie Jones ’22 for the Cole Student Naturalists. 

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