Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas) By Carl Wilms

When I first became acquainted with the Common Yellowthroat (banding code: COYE), I thought its name was a terrible mistake. There is nothing common about the male’s striking plumage and his delightful vocal display during breeding season. He perches atop a stalk of vegetation in fields or along its edges, tilts its head up to the sky, opens his mouth and bellows out the weechy-wheechy-wheechy-wheech that can be heard great distances. While not as loud as the Tufted Titmouse, it is amazing how he delightfully projects his intentions.

The COYE female builds its nest in grasslands, edges, or within suitable brushy bushes near the ground. (This habit makes the nest a prime repository for Brown-headed Cowbird eggs.) This nesting behavior accounts for the COYE being the most commonly banded/recaptured warbler at the Mary Gray Bird Sanctuary’s banding station. Field nets and nets located within 100 yards of edges, and close to waterways, frequently produce COYEs in the lower portions of the nets. Seeing one of these birds in-hand is a thrill: over and over again! Since banding nets are limited to about 3m in height, warblers living higher in the canopy are rarely netted.

Female Common Yellowthroat

The COYE does exhibit site fidelity for its breeding grounds. This has been documented with the work of Amy Wilms (and many volunteers) at the MGBS banding station. This behavior is astonishing when considering the migratory needs of this species. As it travels to wintering grounds in Mexico and Central America, it returns to MGBS. A COYE in its second year was banded at MGBS in 2016. It flew south…flew north…flew south…you get the idea; and was recaptured this year at MGBS on May 4th. How many visitors to Mary Gray have been serenaded by this determined fellow but never considered his life’s trials and travels?

The COYE earns it commonness due to its, well, being commonly found. It is the most frequently found warbler in Indiana (based on the North American Breeding Bird Survey data) while at the same time, being reported to have declined in population by 38% from 1966-2014 (allaboutbirds.org). I believe it is important to remind myself that “common” is a relative word. Common as compared to what? European starling?

IAS members should be proud of the habitat Mary Gray provides for this wonderful bird and the other breeding birds who make the Mary Gray Bird Sanctuary their home. “Weechy-wheechy-wheechy-wheech”….

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