Worm-eating Warbler (Helmitheros vermivorum)
By John Lindsey
Deep in the Hoosier National Forest along a steep ravine, a small bird descends from the canopy with a caterpillar it takes to awaiting nestlings on the forest floor. This is the busy nesting lifestyle of July’s bird of the month, the Worm-eating Warbler.
The Worm-eating Warbler is a fascinating warbler species. While most warblers flaunt their vibrant plumage colors, the Worm-eating warbler is a drab bird with an overall dominant olive coloring, buffy face, and contrasting black lines that run through the eye and repeat on the cap. Their forest camouflage is second to none and these birds can easily go unnoticed, even by experienced birders.
One of their best attributes is the ability to fledge young in a seemingly expedited manner. There are records of WEWA’s fledging within 5 days of hatching and living to tell the tale. My experience on my own property has led me to a “don’t blink” policy as I monitor nests. One day the nest will be filled with tiny white eggs with red speckles and within the blink of an eye, they are out of the nest and hopping around the forest floor, much to the dismay of their concerned parents.
If you find yourself in the Hoosier National Forest birding for skulkers and vireos, listen for their song. The best way that I can describe it is that it is very similar to the fast trill of a Chipping Sparrow. If you are deep in the forest and hear what sounds like a Chipping Sparrow, it is likely a Worm-eating Warbler.
Their current numbers are stable but they are threatened by habitat loss and forest clearing. When my wife and I were looking for property in Southern Indiana, the WEWA was the best salesman and quickly closed the deal. One of my greatest joys is being able to live deep within the forest and provide suitable habitat for my Worm-eating Warbler friends.
Photos by Jeff Timmons.