Garden News Blog

Birds of Brooklyn: Blackburnian Warbler

Tropical birds are known for their brilliant colors—spectacular combinations of reds, oranges, blues, and whites are not unusual. But you don’t have to travel to Central or South America to see such beauty. Every spring, usually some time in May, the Blackburnian warbler migrates from the tropics through our area.

This songbird has yellow and black on its face, black wings with white wing bars, and black streaks on its white belly. But the marking that really makes the Blackburnian warbler distinct is the fire orange on its throat which has earned it the nickname “fire throat.” No other North American warbler has this color there, nor do any have all of these colors in their plumage.

After wintering in the mountains of Colombia, the Blackburnian warbler is ready to breed here in North America, as far to the north and west as Alberta and as far south and east as the Appalachian Mountains. The closest breeding spot to NYC is in Sullivan County, about 90 miles away, and you may see and hear these warblers in BBG, Prospect Park, or Central Park during their migration. If not, just go to a stand of hemlocks upstate and look up—your chances of seeing the bird in its breeding habitat are very good. It likes to stay high in the canopy and especially likes the Canadian hemlock.

Its pretty song, sung by the male, consists of a series of ascending notes—the last note is so high in pitch that it is said to go “directly to heaven.” Whenever the bird is spotted, it draws a crowd. Birders marvel at its song and striking plumage. If you are lucky enough to see and hear one, you will probably never forget it!

The Birds of Brooklyn series looks at some of the most familiar and fascinating birds that call Kings County their habitat.

Joe Giunta has led bird walks for the Nature Conservancy and the South Fork Natural History Society and taught a beginning birding course for Summer Fest. He has birded extensively in the U.S., Panama, Belize, Venezuela, and Costa Rica.

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Blackburnian Warbler
Look for the Blackburnian warbler (Setophaga fusca) in the New York City area in May. Photo by Laura Erickson.