The adaptable and bird-watcher friendly hooded warbler

People who like birds love spring migration because we see an array of brightly colored warblers (and a few drab ones) before they head farther north. Not all of them summer in Canada; in fact quite a few warblers nest in the United States including American redstarts, yellow warblers, common yellowthroats and if you’re along the Mississippi River, the prothonotary warbler. This species has such a golden color that it gives the goldfinch a run for its money.

Sometimes we see birds pushing the boundaries and shifting where they nest. That appears to the case with the hooded warbler. Many of the field guides show that hooded warblers don’t really hit Minnesota and maybe just the southern tip of Wisconsin and Michigan. But each summer there appears to be some that we can find reliably on the edges of the Twin Cities metro. If you check eBird for sightings, it disagrees with many field guides by showing hooded reports well into Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

I think the hooded warbler is trying to make a go of it, but it faces some challenges. This plucky little bird has some traits in its favor. Their nesting season is quick. The female incubates for only 12 days, and the young leave the nest about eight to nine days after hatching! That’s fast.

Another thing in its favor is that hooded warblers are the sort of bird that prefers a thick understory in a wooded area. You know what makes a thick understory in a wooded area? Buckthorn! Yes, the invasive European shrub that we are constantly fighting and shaking our fist at can make decent hooded warbler nesting habitat. I recently was shown a hooded warbler nest in Afton State Park nestled in buckthorn.

The birds are also forgiving as to the amount of wooded areas and will attempt to nest in fragmented woods, which leads to their breeding challenges. The brown-headed cowbird thrives around fragmented wooded areas. The Minnesota DNR reports that up to 75 percent of hooded warbler nests end up with a cowbird egg. Though cowbirds are a problem, the biggest challenge hooded warbler nests face is predation since the nests are so low to the ground and vulnerable to chipmunks, snakes, and cats.

Despite all of this, hooded warblers appear to be doing well as a whole. According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, they are common in their known range and the population increased between 1966 and 2015.

Follow Sharon Stiteler on Twitter via @Birdchick

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