The Prairie Warbler -June 2019

A Moveable Feast – and Feaster

by: Virginia Andrews

One of Nantucket’s few species of nesting warblers, the Prairie Warbler is a summer treat for birders. The male sports a greenish back with chestnut accents, a bright yellow breast, a black shoulder patch and streaking along the flanks.

But the most distinctive feature is a bold facial marking, composed of a dark line through the eye, connected to one outlining a half-circle of bright yellow below the eye. It looks a little bit like a fighter whose black eye is in the late technicolor phase of healing.

But aside from a bit of bill-snapping between challenging males, they are not particularly scrappy birds. The bright color and distinctive markings make it a treat to watch the male as he sits teed up on a branch overlooking his territory. Females have essentially the same pattern of eye-liner, but in a more subdued olive green. Another feature bird-watchers look for is behavioral: a frequently wagging tail with mostly white undertail coverts.

But perhaps the quickest way to find one is by listening. Their song, if it can be called a song, is a series of notes described as “zee-zee-zee-zee-zee-zee-zee,” rising in succession. More of a declarative statement than a melody, it is the male’s way of announcing his availability in the breeding season.


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