Slow down and look closer – our 20 miles of trail in Lawrence and Hopewell Townships host an abundance of birdlife, and we want you to be able to keep them all straight. Welcome to Feathered Friends of the LHT, an ongoing series of “field guides” to Mercer County birds.
The vivid spring color along the LHT isn’t reserved for flowers — from April to June the trees are alive with summer residents and migrating birds on their way further north. Many of these tiny birds are warblers which can be hard to spot as they flit from branch to branch; but with a little patience you can enjoy and identify these colorful travelers.
Yellow-rumped Warblers (Setophaga coronata) are best identified by patches near their rumps which are — unsurprisingly — bright yellow. Common in New Jersey in the spring and summer, you may even spot these flashy, little birds over the winter. While most warblers travel south, Yellow-rumpeds are the most commonly sighted winter warbler in North America and can be seen as far north as Maine. Widespread, with east and west coast variants, they’re most often seen along the edges of conifer and mixed woods, in clearings, and in berry thickets. A tiny bird, look for graphic black, white, and grey wing feathers, black eyepatches, and yellow streaks above or below a pointed black beak. Females are softer in color and non-breeding adults lack the bright yellow coloration. Or listen for a buzzy warble (warblers warble, of course) and sharp clicking calls. They feed on berries and a variety of insects; and pairs can have up to two broods — with three to five eggs — each year. Females do most of the incubating and both parents feed their young. Read more at Audubon.
Warblers symbolize self-expression, sociability, and a verve for life. Their long migrations also symbolize movement, finding comfort in new places, and expanding ideas and endeavors. Known for their musical warbles, these little birds often represent music, listening, and raising your voice to speak up for yourself and your feelings.
Baltimore Orioles (Icterus galbula) aren’t warblers, but they are one of the most brilliantly colored and identifiable songbirds. They are fairly common in our area during warm weather breeding months, and are often found among mature trees, in and along open woods, and near riverbanks. You can also spot them in towns, parks, and suburbs with dense tree cover. Just look for their very distinctive nests — intricately woven hanging sacs fashioned from plant fiber, or listen for clear, flute-like whistles. Baltimore Orioles are a medium-sized bird; males are a vivid orange with black heads and black and white streaked wing and tail feathers. Females are a softer shade of orange with barred grey, brown, and white wings. Omnivorous, Baltimore Orioles feed on insects as well as the nectar from various flowers (you might tempt some to your yard with orange slices or a hummingbird feeder). Females lay three to six eggs and incubate while both parents feed their young. Read more at Audubon.
Orioles are a perching bird, with feet designed to balance just about anywhere. Further, their beaks are generally the same length as their heads. These features symbolize balance, harmony, and the idea that what one puts out into the world should be equal to what one reaps or consumes.
Wood Thrushes (Hylocichla mustelina) are not warblers — though thrushes are closely related to the warbler family. These charming birds, identifiable by their speckled breasts, are relatively common but their numbers are in decline as forests are developed and become more fragmented. They also, famously, hatch a lot of cowbirds. Cowbirds lay eggs in Wood Thrush nests and the unsuspecting Thrush often raises more cowbirds than young of her own. Nonetheless, Wood Thrushes — who you may see hanging out with robins —are often found in damp, deciduous forests and in suburban areas with mature tree cover. Medium-sized, Wood Thrushes have longish beaks, stubby tails, and are tawny brown over their dark grey-speckled white breasts. They feed on berries and a variety of insects; and their song has been described as melodious and flute-like. Wood Thrushes can raise two broods a year, laying three to four eggs. Females incubate but both parents feed their babies. Read more at Audubon.
Wood Thrushes tend to remain loyal to their chosen partners for life, so they symbolize partnership, strong relationships, monogamy, stability, and devotion. They also represent fierce loyalty, selflessness, and the family unit — think about all of those adopted cowbirds!
Now, back to warblers: Palm Warblers (Setophaga palmarum) are a common site along the east coast, often wintering in Florida where they rarely perch on their namesake trees despite congregating among palm groves. Come summer, these tiny birds head north to breed, where they feed on insects and berries in open meadows, grasslands, and swamps. You’ll rarely see them in any trees —Palm Warblers prefer to pause among low branches, weeds, and grass. Coloration can range from vivid yellow with a rich burgundy cap, to drab yellow with grey streaks and speckles, to grey, black, and white all over. All those costumes — depending on age, variation, season, gender, and whether or not the bird is looking to breed — make their constant tail-bobbing their most identifiable trait. Palm Warblers sing in a dry, slow trill; and can raise two broods each year. Females lay four to five eggs and both parents incubate and feed their chicks. Read more at Audubon.
Yellow birds symbolize joy, happiness, energy, and a positive outlook on life.