GET A BUZZ FROM THE TOWNSEND'S WARBLER
By Gail Cleveland
Hear the Townsend's Warbler sing!
HERE (.wav file)
High up near the tip top of a fir tree in Glacier Park,
I can hear the distinctive song of one of my favorite
Northwest Montana warblers. If I am lucky, he may come
out and sing from the top of the tree, but I am not
getting my hopes up. I also didn’t bring my neck brace,
which would definitely be handy when looking for these
tree top singers. When he does come into view, this
medium-sized wood-warbler is strikingly arrayed with an
olive green back, a black throat, a large yellow eye
patch with a black stripe, a yellow breast with white
underbelly and two white wing bars, making this
Townsend's Warbler arguably among the most beautiful
birds of western North America.
The Townsend’s is one of five North American
black-throated warblers. The Black-throated Green is
primarily an eastern bird, which also nests north of us
in Alberta and Saskatchewan. The Hermit is primarily a
west coast bird, along with the Black-throated Gray
which is also a western interior bird. The rarest of
these black-throats is the Golden-cheeked, which can be
found only in a small part of central Texas.
The Townsend’s breeding range is west of the Rocky
Mountains and includes parts of Alaska south through
much of British Columbia to the Olympic Peninsula in
Washington and to the mountains of western Montana, the
Idaho panhandle and northeast Oregon. The habitats of
the Hermit and Townsend’s Warbler overlap. Researchers
believe that Townsend’s are displacing Hermit Warblers
in these zones because they are more aggressive at
attracting females and have larger clutches of eggs.
There have been examples of hybridization of the two
species as well.
The winter range for our Townsend’s Warbler extends from
southeast Arizona and southwestern Texas to extensive
regions of Mexico all the way to Costa Rica. The West
Coast Townsend’s actually winters on the Pacific coast
from British Columbia to southern California.
The black-throated warblers have songs that are
distinctive from other warblers and similar to each
other. I call them the “zoo zee” warblers. For me, they
are the easiest warblers to identify. Whether I have
been in Glacier Park or on the West Coast, in a Utah
desert or lucky enough to hear a Golden-Cheeked in
Central Texas, their wheezy, buzzy notes make me stop in
my tracks and say “a black-throated warbler.” My general
moniker for these lovelies is “zee zee zoo zee.”
Although each has a different song, this general pattern
will identify a black-throated warbler.
I have never seen a Townsend’s nest, as it is typically
high up in the canopy and well concealed by foliage. It
is a bulky cap of grass, moss, bark strips, and twigs,
lined with hair, feathers and moss. The female, a duller
version of the male without a black throat but still
with the distinctive yellow eye patch, incubates 3 to 5
eggs for 11 to 14 days. Both male and female feed the
young, which leave the nest about 10 days after
They feed primarily on insects on their breeding
grounds, although berries and some nectar round out
their winter diet in warm climates.
Our Townsend’s arrive here in mid-May and often stopover
in the valley if the high country is still wintery. They
can sometimes be seen feeding in lower branches of the
valley conifers before they ascend to their breeding
grounds. In June and early July when they are still
singing, two good spots to hear and/or see them are on
the Big Mountain or in Glacier National Park.