BLACKPOLL WARBLERS ON ABACO: UNCOMMON TRANSIENTS


Blackpoll Walbler dendroica_striata_mn-cephas-wiki

BLACKPOLL WARBLERS ON ABACO: UNCOMMON TRANSIENTS

The Blackpoll Warbler Setophaga striata is a “TR3” on Abaco. Which is to say, the species is classified as an uncommon transient in its migration, and as such it is rarely seen on Abaco. Apart from anything else the window of opportunity of seeing one in the Fall or in Spring is limited by the length of time they pause on Abaco to catch their breath. Also, they are small birds that do not draw attention to themselves. They hang around in the coppice foliage rather than parading out in the open; and their call is a tiny ‘tsip‘ sound (as with so many other small birds…). 

Blackpoll Warbler, Man-o-War Cay, Abaco (Charmaine Albury)

Fortunately, on Abaco’s warbler magnet Man-o-War Cay, alert birder Charmaine Albury was out and about with her camera to record a sighting. I should say that during the writing of THE BIRDS OF ABACO, I never managed to obtain a single image – however poor – of a Blackpoll Warbler actually taken on Abaco (a qualification for inclusion) from any of the many sources I used. So sadly, this pretty warbler does not feature in the book.

Blackpoll Warbler, Man-o-War Cay, Abaco (Charmaine Albury)

The summer breeding area for blackpolls covers northern North America from Alaska through most of Canada, the Great Lakes region and New England. In the fall, they fly South to the Greater Antilles and the northeastern coasts of South America. The summer and winter areas are very distinct, as the distribution map shows:

dendroica_striata_map-svg

Despite their diminutive size**, blackpoll warblers generally undertake their  long-distance migration – often over open water – non-stop or with a single stopover.  Their migration has been the subject of many scientific studies. One of the longest distance non-stop overwater flights ever recorded for a migratory songbird was made by a BLWA. Which all goes to explain why the species is so rarely seen along the migration route: unlike many migrating birds, they make few, if any, stops along the way.

Blackpoll Warbler, Man-o-War Cay, Abaco (Charmaine Albury)

Of the many stats I have read through, I chose one to demonstrate the stamina of these little birds. In one study, an number were fitted with tiny geolocators. These revealed an average migration journey of around 1600 miles, with the non-stop trip being completed in 3 days by at least one bird.

f1-medium

“Transoceanic migration by a 12 g songbird”

The maps above show blackpoll warbler migrations recorded for 5 birds in a study that indicates that, while a direct overwater route is preferred in the fall migration, the return journey in spring is more leisurely, and overland (it looks as though only 3 birds made it home).

The study quoted is by William V. DeLuca, Bradley K. Woodworth, Christopher C. Rimmer, Peter P. Marra, Philip D. Taylor, Kent P. McFarland, Stuart A. Mackenzie, D. Ryan Norris (

Blackpoll Warbler, Man-o-War Cay, Abaco (Charmaine Albury)

** I came across the statement that “The blackpoll warbler… attains the weight of a ball point pen”. I find this an unhelpful comparison. I know what is meant, but I find it hard to think of a ball of feathers in terms of a writing instrument. Maybe it’s just me? [Astute Reader: I’m afraid so…]

YOU MENTIONED THAT THEY GO ‘TSIP’. WHAT DOES THAT EVEN SOUND LIKE?

Credits: header image of a summer bird, Cephas; all other photos by Charmaine Albury, taken on Man-o-War Cay Abaco; birdsong Xeno-Canto / wikimedia commons

4 thoughts on “BLACKPOLL WARBLERS ON ABACO: UNCOMMON TRANSIENTS

  1. Oh what a lovely long look at this very special warbler, RH. Enjoyed the information, too, such migrating warriors they are! In spite of birding for 23 years, I have only seen one once, in Cape May in 1999. So this was a real treat…thank you!

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    • Very interesting, Jet! Cape May is on their migration route I guess – but maybe not a natural place for a stopover for them. In the fall, too far north for them to need it; in the spring, they have probably had any break they need. I always like coming across a new (to me) small bird, to find that in some way it is a record-breaker! RH

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