Published On: Fri, Mar 7th, 2014

BACKYARD BIRDING IN MERIDA, YUCATAN AND BEYOND – INSECT OR FRUIT FEEDER? THE YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER

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Yellow-throated Warbler, Setophaga dominica, Chipe Rabadilla Amarilla (Spanish)  

I see a face with longish white eyebrows and black muttonchops. A sunny yellow ascot dribbles from the throat onto the upper chest. A black and white-streaked cap, pushed forward, a gray waistcoat, and white shirt complete the stunning outfit of the five inch Yellow-throated Warbler.

Yellow-throated Warbler

Yellow-throated Warbler

A denizen of gardens and many trees from palms to Cecropias, it flits above and under leaves and limbs in search of its insect meals. I’ve enjoyed watching this tiny acrobat in its quest for food and thought I’d concentrate on its feeding technique. I noticed the bird’s adeptness at finding scale insects. Plus that bill can probe into cracks and crevices in its vertical food dispensers.

My backyard Cecropia trees produce large outstretched leaves as if they were giant hands offering many insects and spiders to this winter migrant.

 

Cecropia tree offers a bounty of insect grubs for the Yellow-throated Warbler.

Cecropia tree offers a bounty of insect grubs for the Yellow-throated Warbler.

 

The Yellow-throated Warbler searches for insects on top of leaves and under them

 

Yellow-throated Warbler can glean insects or spiders from under limbs too.

Almost 60 references I reviewed declared this busy bird eats insects, their larvae and spiders. Only two resources included berries or seeds but neither cited references. Here are several photos that show the progression of the warbler eating fruit from the gumbo limbo tree. Any chef would marvel at how easily it removed exactly half of the external layer of each fruit. It seemed to test a teeny bite, then went for the gusto. It continued to dine on these red delicacies for several minutes.

 

Outer fruit skin of gumbo limbo impressively removed by Yellow-throated Warbler

 

Yellow-throated Warbler reaches for first bite.

Yellow-throated Warbler reaches for first bite.

Yellow-throated Warbler goes for the gusto! Insects and spiders are the main prey, but I suggest that it supplements its diet with fruit.

Yellow-throated Warbler goes for the gusto! Insects and spiders are the main prey, but I suggest that it supplements its diet with fruit.

By the way, many people know the gumbo limbo (Bursera sp.) as the “tourist tree” due to its reddish, peeling bark that looks like a sunburned tourist. This tree provides fruits and seeds to both migrating and resident birds. How appropriate that the “tourist tree” feeds feathered tourists too. I also saw the migratory Baltimore Orioles harvest its goodness. Many resident birds including Hooded Orioles, Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, Couch’s Kingbirds, Social Flycatchers, White-winged Doves, and Tropical Mockingbirds fed from the tree or sallied forth to catch insects from their perches on it.

Now here’s the question: did the Yellow-throated Warbler find insect larvae inside the fruit or was it supplementing its diet with juicy fruits?  I vote for the latter since the warbler repeated the same behavior.

As the science saying goes, more research needs to be done on the diet as well as the life history of this bird. I’m happy I could document what I saw.

I heard this migrant species give its Yucatecan, non-breeding call, “Hear! Hear! Thanks for your observations!”

http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/41377

Happy Birding!

 

Mexico Travel Care

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