Magnolia Warbler in our Toronto Backyard



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Magnolia Warbler in our Toronto Backyard

magnolia warbler sitting on tree limb - toronto

For some reason, this past spring resulted in way more migrating birds visiting our backyard than usual.  Either that or Bob and I have just become much more observant.  One day, as I scoured the birch tree in search of the House Wren that was building its nest, I spotted a flash of yellow then saw that this Magnolia Warbler (Dendroica magnolia) had alighted on one of the branches.

magnolia warbler on birch tree - toronto

Its quick movements were difficult to keep up with especially now that the birch tree has its catkins.  The slow emergence of the leaves, however, has played a part in Bob and I being able to see all of our feathered visitors when they drop by for a rest and some food.

magnolia warbler among birch tree branches - toronto

This black-masked little warbler looks like he is going under cover.  The contrasting white eyebrow and bluish-grey crown, in combination with the black mask, back, scapulars and tail, really accentuate the bright underbelly and rump patch.  Setting off the breast, sides and flanks are heavy black streaks.  Magnolia Warblers measure only about 4.3 to 5.1 inches in length (11-13 cm).

magnolia warbler among branches - toronto

Magnolia Warblers are a familiar sight in northern forests.  In fact, last spring, we sighted several pairs at my dad’s place in the community of Oxtongue Lake several hours north of us.  Their breeding range includes central and southern areas of Canada in the provinces of Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec as well as portions of the northern United States.  In the autumn, Magnolia Warblers begin their migration to the eastern half of the United States, southern Mexico and Central America.

magnolia warbler on birch limb - toronto

It was pretty simple to guess that Magnolia Warblers got their name from the magnolia tree, and that is because, in 1810, Alexander Wilson collected one of these birds from a magnolia tree in Mississippi and subsequently named the species after the tree.  In truth, it is in damp, coniferous forests that Magnolia Warblers are found.  They keep to the lower parts of trees such as pine, spruce, hemlock and balsam.

magnolia warbler on tree limb - toronto

This Magnolia Warbler made a brief stay in my backyard trees but while there, he nimbly gathered insects from beneath the emerging leaves.  These Warblers eat both insect larvae and adults, beetles, spiders and caterpillars, their favourite.  Stretching its body upwards, the Warbler gives a nice view of the white under tail coverts and black streaks on the underparts.

magnolia warbler sitting on birch tree limb - toronto

Male Magnolia Warblers arrive in their breeding grounds about two weeks in advance of their female counterparts.  When both are on the scene, they work together to build a nest.  Over the course of a week, the pair will assemble an assortment of horsehair fungus, weeds and grass into a not-so-tidy cup-shaped nest on a foundation of twigs.  The placement of the nest will be on a horizontal tree branch in the lowest three metres (10 ft) of their chosen fir tree, usually in the densest undergrowth of the forest.  It was such a pleasure to have this cheerful warbler show itself just as I looked out the kitchen window.  Kind of makes washing the dishes a little less tedious.

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