GOLDFINCH OR WARBLER? Marilyn Armstrong

A reader assured me that the warblers are not warblers because warblers have migrated south. But after a lot of staring at pictures, these ARE warblers. Also, they do not migrate. They used to migrate which is why I first was baffled as to why I was seeing warblers in the winter. As far as I knew, they should all have gone south by now.

It turns out that many birds have stopped migrating. One of the many reasons they have stopped migrating is because people like me feed them through the winter. Feeders allow them to stay put, so they don’t bother to migrate. And the weather is changing.

Warblers

Why are these warblers? Probably Pine Warblers that permanently live along the coast including where we live. Further inland, some of them migrate, but many do not. The dark head, the sharp double white bar on the wings.

The Goldfinch doesn’t have that double bar. It has one strong bar and a second partial bar and the males have a black cap which NONE of my warblers have, at least none that I’ve photographed and by now, I’ve photographed a lot of them.

My friend Ron says he has flocks of these warblers all year round in his woods, too and he lives just about 60 miles west of here, near Amherst. There are some other birds that are similar, some of which may be other kinds of warblers (there are a bunch of them) or they might be Goldfinch.

More warblers that look just like the other warblers.

The birds are basically the same color, same size, fly in flocks, and live in the same region. And they are all “feeder” birds. But since none of the birds have shown a black cap, I can’t believe in all these birds I haven’t seen a single male American Goldfinch. Therefore, I have to assume these are non-breeding Pine Warblers.

This from the white wing bars, white necks, and dark (but not black) heads and bodies ranging from yellow (mostly around their heads) with mostly light yellow or beige bodies.

This one looks different. No black cap. More yellow than my other warblers. It doesn’t look as if he has that double-barred wing so this could be a “lady” Goldfinch — or a Yellow Warbler. The green on his tail feathers is, I think, a reflection of the green top of the feeder.

I had to buy a new copy of Peterson to get the updated information, by the way. My old book was from 1984 and many migratory patterns have dramatically changed. A few birds apparently don’t even live in this area anymore, but other birds that never lived here now do. Many common birds have become rare and some rare birds have become more common.

Migratory patterns have changed for many birds and quite recently. During the past ten years, the Canada geese stopped migrating. They used to fly south. I remember watching the vees of geese heading for the Chesapeake Bay. You don’t see that anymore.

Instead, they occupy the lawns of (are you ready?) office parks.

There’s no water there, though there are rivers everywhere in the area so I’m sure they can get to a river if they want. They appear to live on the land and eat whatever people leave around. Maybe when the summer comes, they fly to the rivers and catch fish.

The rest of the year, they march in straight lines around the office parks and you had best get out of their way when they have goslings. They are formidable when protecting their young.

Time and birds, they are a’changin’.

Author: Marilyn Armstrong

Writer, photography, blogger. Previously, technical writer. I am retired and delighted to be so. May I live long and write frequently.

24 thoughts on “GOLDFINCH OR WARBLER? Marilyn Armstrong”

    1. I spent hours staring in my pictures and pictures on the internet and concluded that it’s virtually impossible to tell the difference between a non-breeding warbler and a Goldfinch, but the Goldfinches are more inclined to migrate whereas the Pine Warbler (as opposed to the other warblers) tends to stay for the winter assuming there’s food available. Enter people with feeders! We are changing migratory patterns. It’s one of the reasons they caution about feeders because it’s known that feeding stations alter bird behavior — sometimes a lot

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    1. As the climate and the geography changes, so will the birds. The ones that don’t die because their breeding areas are gone, will adapt — and many already have adapted. Some will move to new areas entirely, which has happened with many of the smaller garden birds that don’t bother to migrate — and the Canada geese that don’t leave New England anymore. I miss those long vee formations of geese that flew overhead in the fall. It was one of the signs of the season.

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    2. I don’t know how long these migratory patterns have been the same. There have always been changes in the way animals and birds move around. When we were down on the Vineyard in the summer, the American Eagles were being pushed out by Cormorants, who were better fishers than they were. The Eagles moved inland and began living along the rivers — including our Blackstone — and the Cormorants stayed on the Vineyard. it was entirely natural, even though everyone really wanted the Eagles to stay. But that’s nature. While we lived there, a bird that had disappeared from the Vineyard 50 years earlier came back and I got to be the second identifier of the bird’s return to the island. Both were entirely natural.

      The geese had been gradually slowing their migration. The warmer weather up here probably helped, but even without it, birds change their locations.

      While we have lived here, bobcats have come back to live here as have fishers (a kind of polecat that looks like a mink). And bears are moving in because they’ve been pushed out of their original territory. We have coyotes living in the suburbs and for that matter, in our backyard. Since we arrived, there are many fewer rabbits. Blame the Bobcats who think they look like lunch and for that matter, the coyote who will eat anything they can get their teeth into, including your pet cat — which is one of the reasons we don’t have cats. Since we can’t keep them in the house (doggy door), the coyotes would kill them.

      Some of this migration is caused by human development, but some of it is just that animals move around. Our area is LESS developed than it was 100 years ago, so we have a lot more wild animals here than we used to. The river is full of fish, so the big herons are back and roost in trees.

      But definitely, the warmer winter temperatures are changing many things. The non-migrating little birds CAN live here in the winter because it isn’t too cold for them … and people like me feed them.

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  1. You are lucky to have such a variety of birds. I have now noticed that most of our bird variations are flying around our rive in town, and since I have had my garden refubishes and the lawn removed, for the high beds, I am only getting the sparrows. The other varieties no longer find it so interesting with no worms squiggling amongst the grass.

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    1. Each time we change the environment, it changes the birds and other wild things. We have a very powerful impact on nature and we don’t acknowledge it. I fought our condo association to a standstill when they wanted to pave the back of our condo rather than putting in rock gardens and I think I was right. Cement is the end for the birds. They just go away or die. What is convenient for us is death to many of them.

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  2. Most of those are finches. The one lone one sitting on top of feeder with no bars is a warbler. Main way to tell, the wing barring, and the beak. Warbler beaks are long and thin, finch are wider and a bit shorter, due to the type of food and foraging they do. The barring and coloring of non-breeding (winter) males looks different than when in breeding season.

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