Warbler Migration Tips

Even casual birders get excited during warbler migration season! Try these tips to make the most of your springtime birding.

There are many different kinds of birders. Some lucky birders travel the world to find exotic species others only see in magazines or on the internet. Some prefer to stay home, watching the visitors to their backyard feeders. Others are up at dawn, hiking the trails at the park with binoculars in tow. Migration season brings all these birders together, allowing even casual birders the chance to see unusual species close to home. Warbler migration is especially fun in the spring, since these little birds are all wearing their best breeding colors. This time of year, a little extra effort can yield wonderful results. Here are a few tips to make the most of warbler migration season.

Warbler Migration Tips Prairie Warbler
Prairie Warbler, Pinellas County, FL – Spring 2017

Follow BirdCasts and monitor eBird.
A little planning can help you find many more birds. BirdCast offers birding forecasts by region, letting you know when to expect waves of birds and which types are currently arriving and peaking. The eBird website allows you to search by hotspot, so you can take a look at other birder’s lists and see what you might expect to find.

Take photos, even bad ones.
I consider a camera to be just as essential to birding as binoculars. On a usual day of birding, I’ll take hundreds if not thousands of photos. Most of these are absolutely terrible and will be deleted that same day. But I find photography very valuable for helping to ID the birds I’ve seen. I’m still learning my warblers, for instance, so I don’t always recognize them by sight. Even a blurry or far-off photo can help me ID these birds when I get back home again.

Warbler Migration Tips Black Throated Blue Warbler
Not a photo worth framing, but good enough to help me ID this Black-Throated Blue Warbler.

Learn birds and songs in advance.
Of course, the best way to enjoy birding is to know your species by sight in advance. Knowing their songs is even better, since it allows you to know what you’re looking for. There are many tools and books out there for getting to know warblers. (Check out the many resources available from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology by clicking here.) I also recommend having a good field guide, whether it be a book or digital app, that you can consult along the way.

Attend festivals or field trips.
Birding festivals abound during warbler migration. One of the best in the Midwest is the Biggest Week in American Birding, where you’ll often find Birds & Blooms editors in attendance. Find others with a web search or by contacting your local Audubon society. Your local Audubon society is likely to offer field trips during migration too, so be sure to ask what they have going on.

Warbler Migration Tips Blackpoll Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler, Pinellas County, FL – Spring 2017

Talk to other birders.
While you’re out and about, don’t be afraid to talk with other birders. (You’ll recognize them by their binoculars and peculiar habit of walking along looking up into the trees rather than at the ground.) Nearly all birders are happy to share their spottings, and point you in the direction of a good find.

Jill Staake
Jill lives in Tampa, Florida, and writes about gardening, butterflies, outdoor projects and birding. When she's not gardening, you'll find her reading, traveling and happily digging her toes into the sand on the beach.