Friday, December 13, 2013

Yellow Inked Warbler

As you probably know, the common names of birds range from very fitting to what were they thinking?!  The Magnolia Warbler isn't the worst bird name, but it's not the best either.  Alexander Wilson named it after blasting a spring migrant out of a magnolia tree in Mississippi in 1810.  He used magnolia in the Latin name (Setophaga magnolia) and "Black-and-yellow Warbler" for the English name, but Magnolia Warbler stuck for the common name.  To Wilson's credit Black-and-yellow Warbler makes a lot of sense.  But do you know how many North American warblers have black and yellow plumage?  Neither do I, but it's a lot.  That might be a good bird nerd question to ask non-birders at your upcoming holiday get-together.  Grab your guide, start counting, and you'll be the life of the party!

I think a more hip name for the Mag would be "Yellow Inked Warbler" referring to its "ink"- black streaks on the chest and sides, and especially the tail that looks like its been dipped in black ink.  It could be the mascot for the "Sharpie" brand!  Imagine if Terrell Owens had pulled out a Sharpie with a Magnolia Warbler on the label during his famous end-zone celebration.

It's fun to imagine new catchy names for birds, but birding is serious business...

My only sighting of the aforementioned warbler was six years ago at the Gilbert Water Ranch in the Phoenix area.  So on Sunday I took a break from moving to our new home to chase one that was found in the Tanque Verde Wash in east Tucson.  It was a cold, cloudy day by desert standards.  As I reached the area where it was last seen I noticed another birder glassing the trees.  I walked over to him and asked if he had seen the magnolia.  He had, but it had flown.  So I looked where he was pointing just in time to see a bird fly out of the tree.  "Maybe that was it," he said.  Maybe?  Well that sucks.  The sun was failing us, making it hard to pick out any color on flying birds.  We repositioned ourselves in different spots to try to find it again.  After 20 minutes, no luck.  He left having seen the bird, leaving me out in the cold.

I spent the next hour scouring the area without any luck.  I decided to head home since my truck was parked in our new driveway packed with Christmas decorations that Gaby was waiting for me to unload.  I checked every bird I detected on the half-mile walk back to the car.  Suddenly I spotted a Black-throated Gray Warbler in the willows.  Then there she was, the Yellow Inked Warbler!  Success.  Too bad the lighting was awful.

The sun came out a little but this photo is still pretty crappy.  On a positive note it was my 34th warbler species for Pima County!

CERange Map for Magnolia Warbler


  1. 34???? Impressive. Most impressive.

    Magnolias are great birds. If I had to rename them, I would probably call then Band-tailed Warblers.

    1. Yep, thanks to fall/winter wanderers and a couple border crossers. Your name is much more realistic than mine. I agree, they're pretty awesome.

  2. Wow, awesome- great shot of the tail!

  3. I like Seagull Steve's proposed name for them too!

    Congrats on so many warblers in Pima County Jeremy.

  4. I like the name you gave it better. What I will say about the Magnolia Warbler is that it wasn't tricky to get on camera like the other billion warblers out there:) They are not easy birds! I went twice to find the bird but I was facing time limits as the sun was setting. The bird was a very cool warbler to observe. My nemesis? The Pine Warbler!

  5. I think you're too hard on yourself - the lighting looks good (dull, but that shows off the brilliance of the yellow) and the pictures themselves are very vivid! Since I figured out how to squirrel proof a bird feeder, I have seen some warblers here (tons of nuisance squirrels in our urban yard were driving away all the friendly species before that) but no magnolia - slash - "yellow-sharpie" warblers. :-)