The word that comes up over and over in bird books that describes the male Blackburnian Warbler’s striking good looks is fiery. It’s an appropriate description. When you spot one, its identification is unmistakable and always fiery, especially against the forest’s greenery.
My first sighting of a Blackburnian Warbler was in Lion’s Den Gorge in Grafton, WI. It was springtime and the park was teeming with migrants, and it just so happened that I photographed both the male and female Blackburnian Warblers in the trees during a morning hike. At the time, I wasn’t experienced enough to recognize the female, but later a friend’s birding book provided me with its identification. Seeing both the male and female species of one particular warbler on the same outing isn’t all that common for me. I usually see the males, most of which are easier to identify due to a lot of them having bolder colors and singing more frequently than the females.
This painting depicts my second sighting of a male Blackburnian. Located in Scenic State Park near Bigfork, Minnesota, author Robert B. Janssen describes this park in his book Birds of Minnesota State Parks with the following sentence which summed up my experience as well. “June birding is a real treat at Scenic State Park when these boreal species are at the height of their song period during the breeding season.”
Upon my arrival, the sheer number of birds that could be heard from the parking lot alone was noticeable and lovely; and after just a few minutes of walking, this Blackburnian flew across the walking path in front of me not far from the main lodge. It stopped to sing about 20 feet up on a branch in the dense canopy of shade. It was the first time I’d heard its song. A gentleman asked me what I was looking at. I replied with little confidence, “I think it’s a Blackburnian Warbler.” Later, after verifying what I thought I knew, I breathed a sigh of relief. A few moments later, a young woman walked towards me with a large dog. She apologized for interrupting whatever I was looking at. Oh, heavens no, I thought. I wasn’t feeling interrupted at all, and made sure I told her so. I never expect anyone to stop what they’re doing on account of me staring at a bird, especially in a state park. Besides, the patience and habits of a birder can sometimes elicit a non-birder’s eye-roll. I’m aware of that and don’t expect much more, so I appreciated this woman’s unexpected kindness.
As I walked further along the trail, bird activity seemed to decrease. The deeper into the woods I walked, the quieter it got; the Fire Tower Trail was especially quiet. Approaching Pine Lake, sightings were scarce at best, but I was glad to have explored just for the sake of knowledge and experience.
Blackburnians are a medium to long-distance migrant, traveling from their wintering grounds in South America to the northern reaches of the eastern United States and into the southern provinces of Canada to breed. They are rare in the western half of the United States.
If you’re looking for a reason to love this bird for more than just its good looks and migratory prowess, consider its role on the coffee bean farms in Central America. In the environmentally friendly, shade-grown farms of Costa Rica’s Central Valley, the Blackburnian Warbler is known as an insect-eating wizard, one of a few birds helping to rid their crops of la broca, a coffee borer beetle. Just by eating insects, a study by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Columbia University found that a single bird can save from 23 to 65 pounds of coffee per hectare on a farm every year. So, if you’re thinking about upgrading your morning joe, consider purchasing coffees that display the Bird Friendly Smithsonian certification mark. These 100% organic coffee beans come from growers that have met strict criteria in regards to shade-grown, plant diversity, and more.
For more information on bird-friendly coffee, click here.
Axelson, Gustave. "Coffee Made in the Shade Can Be More Profitable, Thanks to Birds." Living Bird, photographed by Jeffrey Arguedas, vol. 38, Issue 4, Autumn 2019, pp. 20-22.
Janssen, Robert B. Birds of Minnesota State Parks. St. Paul, Minnesota: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, 2015.
National Geographic Society. (1999) National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America. (3rd ed.). Washington D.C.: National Geographic Society.