Mission: To promote the appreciation of wildlife and increase harmony between humanity and nature.

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Saturday, January 27, 2018

Living Sunshine

A Townsend's Warbler is one of my favorite birds. I love the alternating patches of brilliant yellow. Catching just a glimpse of one makes me smile. I can almost feel the warmth of summer sunshine on my face. When most Townsend's Warblers are soaking up Vitamin D in Mexico or California a hardy few choose to stay here during the gray of winter. 

Normally, they prefer to feed in the upper foliage of coniferous trees, but apparently in winter they are sometimes forced to look for food wherever they can find it. In winter I often see them searching among the blossoms of the flowering Mahonia in the Arboretum. 

This particular plant variety, 'Arthur Menzies', creates a bit of a conundrum for folks, like myself, who believe native plants are better for our local environment. This plant supplies winter food for the native Townsend's Warblers and also for Anna's Hummingbirds. Even though this variety of plant was discovered in the Arboretum, I do not think we can honestly call it a native. It is a hybrid of two Chinese species. You can read the interesting back story by Niall Dunne, Communications Manager, Arboretum Foundation, by Clicking Here.
One of the most odd features of Townsend's Warblers is how their color schemes vary depending on your perspective. When viewed from behind, they appear mostly black and white. If I only saw one departing, without a glimpse of yellow, I might not even realize the bird was a warbler.

When they spread their tails, you can see that the black and white color scheme extends to end of their rectrices or tail feathers.

When observed face-to-face a male bird appears mostly black and yellow. As they flicker through the foliage it is easy to overlooking their two white wing bars.

At first glance, a mature female looks pretty much the same as a male. You might even assume that the difference is due to the lack of sunlight in this photo. That is not the case. Females are a dark, olive green in color on their crowns and auriculars, e.g. sides of the head, while mature males have black in these locations.

Another critical difference can be seen in the primarily yellow throats of the females...

 ...as compared to the black throats of the males.

Curiously, the male throats do not all have the same amount of black.

This male shows a lot less black, but perhaps, growing a black throat is a process. Occasionally, mature females can also have a bit of black on their throats, however, their cheeks and crowns will still be olive-green.

Among both the males and females, their backs are olive green with small dark spots. Given their propensity to feed high in the trees it is easy to miss their green and black backs.

As you can see from the last few photos, these birds are often found gleaning food from the branches of conifers in the winter. Last month I found them mostly in the Pinetum, while this month, I am seeing them more in the Winter Garden among the Mahonia blossoms.

Juvenile Townsend Warblers lack the black feathers and have a paler shade of green than the mature females.

In addition, they have less markings on their sides, just below their wings. Since the younger birds, both male and female, look virtually the same we are unable to determine their gender.

The black on this bird's head helps us to conclude it is male.

However, when the bird looks down, we can see olive green with black spots on its crown.

This is the same bird, which we saw earlier, with a minimal amount of black on its throat. I am assuming that these characteristics indicate we are looking at a youthful male who is in the process of molting and growing in its mature black coloring.

While it is fun to try and deduce the gender and age of these little birds, truthfully, I am always just pleased to spot such a brilliant little warbler. Especially one who foregoes the sunshine of Central America to share the winter with us.

Most life on earth depends on sunshine for survival, but warblers are one of the few who give proper due to their life source. To me their brilliant coloring looks like sunshine come to life.

Have a great day on Union Bay...where nature lives in the city!


Going Native:

Without a well-funded Environmental Protection Agency, it falls to each of us to be ever more vigilant in protecting our local environments. Native plants and trees encourage the largest diversity of lifeforms because of their long intertwined history with our local environment and native creatures. I have been told that even the microbes in the soil are native to each local landscape. My hope is that we can inspire ourselves, our neighbors and local businesses to respect native flora and to support native wildlife at every opportunity. I have learned that our most logical approach to native trees and plants (in order of priority) should be to:

1) Learn and leave established native flora undisturbed.
2) Remove invasive species and then wait to see if native plants begin to grow without assistance. (If natives plants start on their own, then these plants or trees are likely the most appropriate flora for the habitat.)
3) Scatter seeds from nearby native plants in a similar habitat.
4) If you feel you must add a new plant then select a native plant while considering how the plant fits with the specific habitat and understanding the plant's logical place in the normal succession of native plants.

My intention in my weekly post is to include at least one photo each week and visually challenge us to know the difference between native and non-native lifeforms.

Is either the squirrel or the blossom a form of life native to Seattle?

Scroll down to see the answers!


Neither is native to Seattle. The squirrel is an Eastern Gray Squirrel and the blossom is from the Arthur Menzies variety of Mahonia. You can view the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife webpage concerning all the squirrels of Washington by Clicking Here.


The Email Challenge:

Over the years I have had many readers tell me that Google is no longer sending them email announcements regarding my posts. Even more frustrating when they go to 're-sign-up', hoping that will enable them to once again start receiving the announcements, they get a message which says 'Sorry, you are already signed up.' Google has not responded to my requests for help with this issue. 

My functional work around is to setup my own email list and each week I manually send out a new post announcement. If you are experiencing the issue and would like to be added to my personal email list please send me an email requesting to be added. Thank you for your patience!

My email address is LDHubbell@comcast.net



  1. Replies
    1. Thank you! I hope are seeing lots of birds this winter!

  2. Great post Larry! My first ever sighting of a Townsend's warbler was on the Arthur Menzies at the Arboretum. They also love my suet feeder, so I wonder if it is the Arthur Menzies and suet that allow them to stay the winter?

    1. They certainly help - given I often I see TOWA in the Menzies. I am curious how often you see them at your feeder? Are they there every day, morning or afternoon? In any case, I think you are very lucky to get to see them regularly, without even leaving home!

    2. The TOWA tend to come in with other flocks of birds. If I see a bunch of Bushtits or Chickadees, I head out to look for the Warbler. He also loves the birdbath, so I can pretty reliably see him there. However, I have not been able to discern a daily pattern, partly because I do not get to observe my back yard for the whole day. I went to the Arboretum yesterday in our brief respite from the rain. I got my best photo yet of the TOWA.