2016-10-13 / Nature

Small Songbirds Passing Through

By Jack Kelly

Golden-crowned kinglet. (Photos by Jack Kelly) Golden-crowned kinglet. (Photos by Jack Kelly) One thing we can count on is that birds are creatures of habit and that the cycle of what happens in the natural world is for the most part predictable. I took the photographs of the birds you see here a couple years ago, as I have not been able to go out and shoot because of some health issues, but my birding friends report they have recently seen them all through binoculars or their camera lenses.

Weather and wind direction shifts brings a bounty of diminutive songbirds to Newport County. Raptor species including Cooper’s hawks, sharp-shinned hawks, merlin falcons and peregrine falcons have been spotted in fairly large numbers across Aquidneck Island. These birds of prey follow and pursue the flocks of smaller transients, utilizing them as a sort of flying smorgasbord. The songbirds deploy two defenses against attacks from above, and are usually successful in avoiding certain death.

Yellow-rumped warbler. Yellow-rumped warbler. The first defense is flocking, where birds caught in open fields or other vulnerable positions will take off and fly very closely together while executing drastic dives and turns to escape predators. The second defense involves alarm calls issued by birds foraging in or near trees and shrubs. At the first alert, every member of the feeding group will seek shelter in the foliage and wait out the threat.

The bay-breasted warbler nests in the dense fir and spruce forests of southern Canada, where it forages for spruce budworm caterpillars and other destructive insect pests. It winters in Central and South America, and like many other Neotropical birds, this species crosses the Gulf of Mexico non-stop, when migrating to and from its wintering grounds.

The bay-breasted has a wingspan of 9 inches and a body length of 5.5 inches and displays a variety of plumage colors depending on the season.

Blue-headed vireo. Blue-headed vireo. The yellow-rumped warbler is a highly versatile bird that nests in coniferous and mixed boreal forests and highland forests of the mountains in the western United States and across southern Canada and Alaska. It winters in a wide range from the southern Pacific and Atlantic coasts, Gulf Coast, and down into Mexico and Central America. It has a wingspan of 7.5 inches and a body length of 5 inches, and like other warbler species its colors vary with the seasons. The yellow-rumped is named for its characteristic bright yellow rump displayed in all plumage variations.

The ruby-crowned kinglet is a late season migrant with a wingspan of 7.5 inches and a body length of 4.25 inches. It winters in the southern tier of the United States and into Mexico and Central America. This tiny, compact bird forages in groups with other small birds, moving restlessly through vegetation with nervous flicks of its wings. Plumage colors depend on the season with the male displaying a little scarlet crown when agitated.

Cooper's hawk. Cooper's hawk. The beautifully colored blue-headed vireo is a staple of migration across our region. It nests in the deciduous forests of the eastern United States and across southern Canada. It winters along the southern Atlantic coast of the United States, the Gulf Coast and down into Mexico and Central America.

This trademark vireo has a wingspan of 9.5 inches and a body length of 5.5 inches. It forages with other woodland birds in scrubby thickets and forested regions for insects. Its plumage takes on brighter or duller color patterns depending on the season.

Jack Kelly, a native Newporter, is a wildlife photographer and nature enthusiast who enjoys sharing his experiences with others.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

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