Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Orange Crown of an Orange-Crowned Warbler

I can't count the number of Orange-crowned Warblers I've seen in the past few years since I started birding. I can, however, tell you that I've never really seen the orange crown of an Orange-crowned Warbler until this past week while birding at the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch in Gilbert, Arizona.

My wife and I were in Gilbert visiting our daughter and her family and I had gone out for a couple hours of early morning birding while others were sleeping and getting a slow start to their day. I noticed a pair of Orange-crowned Warblers foraging in small trees along one of the many ponds in the Preserve. They were low and close so I began to capture some images.

Pacific Orange-crowned Warbler Showing the Rarely Seen Orange Crown in Gilbert, AZ
Pacific Orange-crowned Warbler Showing the Rarely Seen Orange Crown in Gilbert, AZ
Many bird species are named for obvious markings (e.g. Red-headed Woodpecker, Black-capped Chickadee), but some, such as the Orange-crowned Warbler, were named for marks that were initially observed on "birds in the hand", the very old way of studying birds.

Orange-crowned Warblers show several plumage variations (populations) in the western states. Pacific birds are more brightly colored and are probably what I photographed in Gilbert. Taiga birds show more gray. Both show the somewhat dark line that runs through the eye from the bill to just past the eye. This line breaks their faint white eye ring. Here's an image showing what I believe is a Taiga Orange-crowned Warbler.

Taiga Orange-crowned Warbler in Utah County, UT
I've read in my Sibley Guide to Birds that an intergrade population of Orange-crowned Warblers also exists in the western US states, but it's difficult to completely distinguish this group from the other two. A fourth population exists in the Channel Islands off the coast of California.

Along with Yellow-rumped and Yellow, Orange-crowned Warblers are among the most commonly seen warblers in the western United States. They are on the move and will be showing up in greater numbers in the more northern western US states soon. See if you can catch a glimpse of their orange crown.

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