Warblers: If One is a Butterbutt, Should the Other be a Butterhead?

The warblers have been prolific these days so I’m republishing my 2013 lost article on what keeps them coming back to my place.

Dateline:  January 25, 2013*

Both Pine and Yellow-rumped Warblers will visit birdfeeding stations

This is the time of year when the warblers are a sea of yellow and gray around here. The two most prolific of these birds at my place are the Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata) and the Pine Warbler (Setophaga pinus).

The Butterbutt

A common name for the Yellow-rumped Warbler is butterbutt and it is easy to see why.

The diet of the Yellow-rumped Warbler consists of mostly insects including caterpillars and other insect larvae, beetles, weevils, ants, scale, aphids, grasshoppers, caddisflies, craneflies, and gnats, as well as spiders. Quite a menu variety. They also eat spruce budworm, a serious forest pest concern.

This Yellow-rumped Warbler was reaching up for some treat in a groundsel bush

It’s interesting to watch the Yellow-rumped Warbler feed. They flutter and catch insects on the wing and they also flutter next to tall grasses to snag seeds. It reminds me of how a hummingbird hovers.

Visiting Wax Myrtle aka Bayberry

Yellow-rumped Warblers enjoy fruits, particularly bayberry a.k.a. wax myrtle, which “their digestive systems are uniquely suited among warblers to digest”. This gives them a greater northern winter range. This shrub is the most prolific in my garden.

Add a female wax myrtle and the yellow-rumped warblers are sure to flock to your place

Other commonly eaten fruits and seed include:


In my garden

Juniper berries Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana)
Poison ivy Toxicodendron radicans
Poison oak
Greenbrier Smilax spp.
Grapes Vitis spp.
Virginia creeper Parthenocissus quinquefolia
Seeds from grasses Bluestem (Andropogon spp.)
Goldenrod seeds Solidago spp.

This probably explains their vast numbers at my place. They will use feeders but nutrition from actual plants is a better choice since the food isn’t chemically treated to control insect pests during production.

I set up natural foods at the feeding station via a wreath created from the spent seedheads of native plants and the Pine Warblers come calling

When I added the red cedar I hoped that the Yellow-rumped warblers, who build nests in conifers, would be enticed. They build with twigs, rootlets and grass, lined with hair and feathers. Unfortunately I didn’t realize that in my area they are non-breeding winter residents. Still, the cedar will feed them and many other bird species make use of this pretty native tree.  I’ll just have to hope that someone in their breeding range will share their encounter details.

One thing I noticed is that the colors of “my butterbutts” aren’t as vivid as some shown on birding websites where they can have sharp black markings. Apparently during the winter they are a little more drab, but they will always have that bright yellow tail thing going which they flash often when standing still, spying for insects.

The Yellow-rumped Warbler’s colors can be a little drab in wintertime

The Butterhead

Pine Warbler

Ok, the Pine Warbler isn’t called a Butterhead; I’m just making that up. They are pudgy birds and they do have bright yellow HEADS, so if the yellow RUMPED warbler…well, you get my drift.

The Pine Warblers are a little pudgy

Aptly named since they spend much of their time in the pine trees, they also come down to find insects in the grasses and they do enjoy seed, and among warblers they are notorious seed eaters…especially pine.

This week the Pine Warblers are especially fond of the bidens alba seeds

Recently they have been spending a lot of time in the dead parts of the Spanish Needles (Bidens alba) munching away on the spent seeds. Still, they mostly eat caterpillars and other insects including beetles, grasshoppers, ants, bees, flies, cockroach eggs, and spiders. Again, they will readily come to feeders, but natural foods are a better source of nutrition than commercial birdseed.

They get along with other birds such as this blue jay in the oak

These birds nest high atop pine trees. I’ve yet to see an actual nest but I do take out the field glasses and scan the trees during nesting season since I am hopeful that they will nest, given the amount of time they spend around my garden which has those tall pines. I’m still not clear how any type of nest could stay up in a pine since they sway so much in the wind. These birds must have access to super glue.

Pine Warblers like to hunt for insects in wood and brush piles

The Pine warbler is quite melodious and I get so much enjoyment hearing them from high in the treetops. A bird that is fun to watch, beautiful and worth setting up habitat for.

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on January 25, 2013 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.


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