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BATES, David Merrill With heavy hearts the family...

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Science & NatureWhat is That?What Is That… Shock of  Yellow?

What Is That… Shock of  Yellow?


The ice is out and the daffodils are blooming at our cottage.  (Fortunately, deer do not eat daffodils.)  As we get ready to move to the lake for the warmer months, we are encouraged by observing that the plumage of the goldfinches at our bird feeder has changed from their drab winter shades to more vibrant yellow, breeding tones.  This change also prompts us to reflect on some of the other birds with a shock of yellow plumage that we hope to observe and photograph again this year.  Interestingly, even with such bright yellow plumage, these birds can be well camouflaged when moving about in the mixed shades of green foliage.

The American goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) is a small year-round resident at White Lake.  It grows to 13 centimetres in length and weighs up to 13 grams, and is common in open areas and fields where it feeds on tree buds, seeds (especially thistles) and seasonal insects.  While the plumage of both the male and female is a drab grey-brown tone (with  a hint of yellow) in winter, in summer  the male’s body is bright yellow with a black cap, wings and tail while the female is yellow-brown with dark wings and tail.  These birds are frequent and numerous visitors at feeders that are serving up small sunflower or niger seeds.  This picture shows both a male and female.

The common yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas ) is a seasonal warbler common in low wet areas  such as weedy and marshy habitats.  It grows to 13 centimetres in length and weighs up to 10 grams.  Both the male and female have a yellow throat and undertail with olive breast and back.  The male has a distinctive black mask.  They feed on a range of small insects.  Field guides indicate that this may be the most abundant warbler in North America.  Pictured in the top photograph is a female and the bottom is a male.

The chestnut-sided warbler (Dendroica pensylvanica) is a seasonal visitor that grows to a length of 13 centimetres and weighs up to 9.6 grams.  It lives in second growth woods where it feeds on a variety of insects found on the undersides of leaves.  The male has a bright yellow crown, chestnut along its sides,  black wings, tail, bill and legs, white chin and belly, black and white banding on its back and a black band running through its eye.  The female’s colouring is similar but duller than the male’s.  Until recently this bird was considered rare but it is now abundant, likely as the result of increasing second growth areas following deforestation.  The top picture shows a male and the bottom is a female.

The pine warbler (Dendroica pinus) is another seasonal visitor that we have seen in or near the pine forests around White Lake where it nests and feeds on insects, spiders and some berries.  It can grow to a length of 14 centimetres and weigh up to 12 grams.  Males and females have similar colouration consisting of a yellow chin, chest and belly, olive-green back, and dark wings with two rows of white wing bands and black legs and beak.  While this pine warbler was not photographed in a pine tree, this bush was adjacent to pines.

The yellow-bellied sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) is a woodpecker that is a seasonal visitor at White Lake.  It can grow to a length of 21 centimetres and weigh up to 50 grams.  Males have a red cap and chin, and black and white markings. The center of its belly is yellow.  Females are similar except their chins are white.  Since their yellow bellies are most often not visible, the easiest way to identify them is by locating the rows of small shallow holes they drill in the bark of poplar trees.  We have them in abundance at White Lake.  They feed on sap as well as the insects attracted to the sap.  Pictured is a male.

Both the chestnut-sided warbler and the pine warbler were new to us in 2016.  Our photograph of the chestnut-sided warbler allowed us to make the identification.  A little help from our ‘friends’ at the Facebook page of Ontario Birds allowed us to identify the pine warbler.  What a helpful group of people. We are looking forward to seeing more of these beautiful birds this year.

Should you be interested in additional information on these yellow birds we would recommend: The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America by David Allen Sibley; Lorimer Field Guide to 225 Ontario Birds by Jeffrey C.  Domm; Birds of Ottawa and Vicinity by Gerald McKeating; and Warblers of the Great Lakes & Eastern North America by Chris G. Earley.




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