What Bird Is That?

Our winter resident birds can be frustrating to identify. If you learn a few of the more distinct ones, you can make your neighbors think that you are a bird expert. The following descriptions are for the mature males. Immatures and females are more difficult.

I’ll start with the three mimics. The dark gray catbird repeats its phrases of other bird’s songs only once and has a “rahhr” call similar to a cats meow. These are here from October to May. The light gray mockingbird repeats its phrases three or more times. It is a full time resident. The largest is the brown thrasher. This is often found on the ground flipping leaves while looking for insects and worms. The brown thrasher repeats its phrases only once and is a rare, full time resident. You will need native trees and shrubs to provide the dead leaves that worms grow in for the thrasher to eat.

The fall migration starts in September with the” speee” call of the tiny, gray colored, blue-gray gnatcatcher. It is heard high in the branches of trees. You will see several flitting from branch to branch and ocassionaly one will come down to check you out. An oak tree is a good place to look. As a bonus, they are found with warblers and other small birds during migration. Most warblers are only five inches long. A few, like the black-throated blue warbler, stay the winter. This is a beautiful bird that catches your attention with its black face, white belly and blue wings and back.

Look for the yellow spot at the base of the tail and you have identified the yellow-rumped warbler. It likes the berries of wax myrtles. The bird creeping over branches like a nuthatch is the yellow-throated warbler. It has a bright yellow throat and chest, black cheeks and a gray back. The black mask across the face, both above and below the eye, and an olive back and yellow belly make the common yellowthroat easy to distinguish. Another creeping warbler is the black-and-white warbler. Beautiful clean lines of black and white set this bird apart. All four are common during the winter months.

Small flocks of birds lighting in the grass with tails that bob constantly are the palm warblers. It is dull brown overall with a little yellow under the tail and a brown cap on its head. Remember the constant tail bobbing. These are also seen in trees and is very common. Just say palm warbler and you will be right most of the time.

Of course this is just a start. Once you learn some of the common birds you will have something to compare other birds to and be more likely to notice the rarer and more interesting ones.

Cover and food for these birds is provided by many native plants. Plants in fruit during the migration season include oaks, wild coffee, beauty berry, dahoon holly, marlberry, snowberry, Spanish stopper, hackberry, firebush, lignum vitae, and bahama strongbark. Many wildflowers including red salvia, native plumbago, dune sunflower, horsemint and bluecurles provide seeds for small birds. Insects that are eaten by birds also eat the seeds.

Stop and enjoy the seasonal changes in our beautiful South Florida fall; the weather is delicious and the rest of the country is shivering.