This year wasn’t so bad, especially compared to what had to be endured in the early to mid 2010’s. Just look at your favourite bird blog, 10,000 Birds: throughout this spring migration period, there were only around 4 posts on warblers – the North American ones. And there would have been essentially none if a Kirtland’s Warbler hadn’t shown up in New York City. Our eyes and brains were spared the usual onslaught of colours and hyperbole that makes bird blogging in May such a burden on all decent birders. We’ve certainly come a long way from 2011, when we even had to make it through an entire theme week dedicated to warblers, and warblers alone. I guess the reason for the decline in spring warbler frenzy posts is that most bird bloggers have been in the business for so long by now that it got too repetitive. But also, most of us who are still communicating on blogs and not on Instagram have … erm … matured enough to appreciate beauty beyond the obvious, and have thus turned our attention and affection to other species. Like the fine, fine sparrows. Clearly, and as someone who has spent two springs birding around the Great Lakes, I can assure you that you were right all along when you had that subtle, subconscious feeling that spring warblers really weren’t that great after all and that even in spring, sparrows reign supreme. Now, this might arouse controversy when you – as a seasoned birder – mention this to the average Tilley hat Joe, so let me quickly provide you with ammunition to convert the innocents gone astray.
- Warblers may have fancy colours but they don’t have nice patterns. They mostly look rather plain (Wilson’s Warbler) or like they’d just had a territorial fight right across a painter’s palette. Pure chaos – Chestnut-sided Warblers. Seriously, if you saw all your fancy-shmancy spring warblers in black-and-white, they’d be boring. Sparrows, on the other hand, have amazing patterns of stripes and scales, of spots at funny places and subtle colour changes. No matter under what conditions or through what filters you see them, they stay interesting.
- Yellow. I mean, yellow is nice when you like bananas, but I just can’t get too excited about yellow on birds. And if you took away the yellow from all the warblers, you’d essentially be left with a bunch of drab LBJs with a boring pattern. Well, I’ll give you Prothonotary Warbler, that is a different kind of yellow. But for the rest – come on, why do you think the Blue-winged Warbler is called Blue-winged? Because its yellow sucks.
- Sparrows are colourful too, some of them at least, yet use their colours in a much more subtle and effective way. Just take a closer look at a LeConte’s Sparrow‘s ear coverts, with the fine contrast between orange and grey. Or that dapper yellow spot on White-throated Sparrows. And the tiny black forehead on a Chipping Sparrow‘s reddish-brown cap. That is class, my friends.
- Sparrows stay low in bushes or the ground and are thus a true challenge to find and observe. If you want to see warblers, all you have to do is visit the boardwalk at Magee Marsh, stroll along with the masses like you were at IKEA looking left and right, and go home with an impressive list of warblers. Not so with sparrows. They demand more effort. You need to be sly and cunning and patient to outwit them, whereas all warblers demand from you is to bend over backwards.
- Talking about bending over backwards. In contrast to those canopy-dwelling warblers, sparrows stay low. No warbler-neck. Yes. No. Warbler. Neck. That settles it. Especially for us … you know … seasoned birders who blog.
Now come at me. If you dare.