Migrants in Disguise

This past Saturday was the first October beginning bird walk.  Fall is an interesting time to bird.  In the fall, I have a love-hate relationship with birding because the birds are migrating, so there are tons of species in town who haven’t been here since at least last spring.  On the other hand, they are wearing their drab fall colors, blending in with the fading colors of the leaves.  And they are quietly eating everything in sight with little more than a peep to even let us know they’re there.

This means paying careful attention to ever flutter and flick among the leaves.  It also means throwing out all the learned images and looking for pale yellows and browns where, in the spring, one might have looked for brilliant red.

Take, for example the Scarlet or Summer Tanager. We eventually decided it was a Summer Tanager after we saw it several times, but it was almost impossible to decide for sure until looking at the photos.

The Summer Tanager is an all-red bird in the summer.  In September, it’s yellow and green.  Not only are these birds busy getting ready for their long journey to warm climates, but they’re also expending energy completely replacing their wardrobe each fall.  I guess it’s necessary.  I know that I’ve seen many Scarlet Tanagers prior to the leaves on the trees growing in the spring.  I’ve seen only 1 after the leaves are fully out.  In spite of having neon red coloring, the Scarlet (and Summer) Tanager manages to stay well hidden in the canopy of the trees.  Once the trees drop their leaves, however, all bets are off.  So, I guess it makes sense that they would turn to a dull yellow before beginning on their annual trek to mecca.

We saw Magnolia, Nashville, Tennessee, Yellow, Yellow throated, Common Yellowthroat, and Chestnut-sided Warblers. If you have never seen these birds, take a look.  They are tiny, beautiful birds that don’t come to feeders.  Many people die having never seen one, yet they are often nearby (at least during migration season).

While the changes between the breeding and non-breeding plumages for these tiny warblers is not as dramatic as for the male Scarlet and Summer Tanagers, they still got through some dramatic changes.

I wonder how their parents prepare them for this?  Do they tell them that they shouldn’t despair over their dull colors when they’re young?  Do they sit them down and have the “birds and bees” talk?  Or do they call it something different like “the humans and the fish”?  And do they warn them that they will return to the dull yellow every fall like some sort of magical curse in a fairy tale?  And do they have controversy over whether this needs to be taught in the public schools or handled at home?

However bird parents handle preparing their young for “the change,” the birds are well-prepared for blending in.  They all look like leaves.

 

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