By Eden Gallanter
Gold is the color of summer in California. And the adorable Wilson’s Warbler is proof. This small, yellow bird with dark wings and an olive green back flits around our Golden State in the summer months as it makes its way north to breed. Once the winter hits, however, this sun-loving chirper heads back to warm countries like Mexico and Honduras.
Even though these birds are common across the continent, Pacific coast populations are unique. Like the vibrant states in which they fly, warblers on our side of the U.S. are a brighter and richer yellow color, especially on the face, which can even look orange in the sunlight.
The Wilson’s Warbler rests its small body on the ground, in a bowl-shaped nest made of vegetative matter, lined with grasses or hairs, protected by shrubs or bunches of grass. Inside the nest, the bird’s egg clutch is two to seven creamy white eggs with tiny red spots. Wilson’s Warblers are monogamous, amorous pairs enjoy the temperate climate in Pacific Lowland areas like the San Francisco Bay. Outside of the breeding season, Wilson’s Warblers are solitary foragers, associated with mixed flocks of other birds. They have a distinctive tail flip, hopping energetically from branch to branch.
The Wilson’s Warbler loves to hang out in shrubby thickets near bodies of fresh water, such as rivers, streams, ponds, lakes, and marshes. While their wintering habitat is warmer and usually more tropical, in their summer range in the Bay Area they are usually found near willow trees or shrubs with dense foliage, like Toyon, wild currant bushes, and native California cherry species. Here’s a hint: if you would like to attract these bright birds to your garden, start with a native willow.
Their diet consists almost entirely of insects and small invertebrates gleaned from leaves, and a few berries and seeds as well. Wilson’s Warblers even eat some of the insects that will harm your garden. For their help with pests, their cheery chirps, and their golden coats, it’s a pleasure to welcome the Wilson’s Warbler to our summer landscape.
Photo credits (from top): birdsofthebay.com, Greg Lavaty, mojoscoast.com