The Petersen Field Guides Eastern Birds edition devotes four pages to “confusing fall warblers.” It lists and shows drawings of 27 different warblers, and refers to them as “confusing,” presumably because the lack of the distinctive marking and coloring of their breeding plumage makes some of them difficult to tell apart at this time of year. Two of the drawings, those of the prairie warbler and the palm warbler, have a dotted line and arrow to show that those species wag or bob their tails.
The bobbing tail was a good indication that I was looking at one of these two warblers as it visited our yard this afternoon. It’s possible that we received a visit last week as well, but I could not get a glass on that visitor in time to observe the features.
I’m inclined to say that our visitor was a palm warbler. Petersen indicates that the palm warbler is a ground feeder, and this bird spent most of its time in our yard on the ground. Sadly, that habit almost cost it its life, as one of the neighborhood cats came close to surprising and catching it on the ground in the neighbor’s yard.
Like most warblers, the prairie warbler and palm warbler are just passing through. In the coming days they will continue their migration to the southern US, the islands of the Caribbean, Mexico, or Central America. These are not rare birds by any measure but it was a great surprise and pleasure to have been granted this encounter. We wish them well on their journey and bid them think of stopping by again in the spring.