Natural food and water are key to attracting warblers


In the 37 years I’ve lived along a major migration route, I’ve attracted about half a dozen species of warblers to my suet, jelly, and orange feeders. Visits were rare and only during the severe cold spells of spring migration. In other words, bird feeders aren’t the best way to attract warblers, at least not directly.

Although warblers rarely visit bird feeders, a regular procession passes through my garden each spring and again from mid-July to early October. My garden is not unique: Warblers migrate through, or at least over, almost every garden in America, from the northern forests of Canada, Alaska, and other northern states all the way south from the United States and to the tropics. However, the warblers in my garden don’t just fly above us. Many of them stop for food, drink and rest.

Native trees and shrubs are a critical factor. In the spring, the leaves open and the first caterpillars hatch just as the warblers are on the move, thus feeding their movements on this abundant prey. As summer progresses into early fall, fruit trees and shrubs provide sweet meals for Tennessee, Cape May, and a few other warbler species, and the fruit also attracts an assortment of insects to greater variety. Pesticides destroy this essential insect food and can also be directly toxic to warblers.

Warblers don’t live on food alone: ​​water is also essential. I don’t think I’ve ever seen warblers in my standard birdbaths, but they do frequent ground level birdbaths. Mine looks like a small bubbling pool and is located near a grove of raspberry bushes and small trees. The little birds come and go quickly and secretly so I only notice them when I pay attention to them, but in the two years since I purchased this birdbath I have seen more of a dozen species of warblers to drink and/or bathe there. . After they finish bathing, warblers usually sit on a nearby perch for several minutes to preen. So when I sit quietly near the birdbath, I can observe them at leisure.

If your garden has natural food and water, warblers might not notice it without effective advertising. Fortunately, the chickadees in your neighborhood offer this service absolutely free. Warblers that hatched in the northern woods must migrate through thousands of miles of unfamiliar terrain to their tropical wintering grounds, but pretty much everywhere they go on this continent, familiar territory. dee-dee-dee reassures them that these chickadees will welcome them into their flock, lead them to the best food and water resources, and warn them of potential dangers.

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The friendlier your garden is to chickadees, the more they will attract warblers, so indirectly a good feeding station invites warblers. To add warblers to your garden list during migration, scan your trees and shrubs each time the tits arrive. Sometimes you might be rewarded with a glimpse, or a full look, of one of these tropical beauties. Don’t forget to thank your chickadees: good publicity pays off.

This article from Laura Erickson’s “Attracting Birds” column originally appeared in the September/October 2018 issue of BirdWatching.