Living with Bears Redux

Most summer evenings after the heat of the day has faded, I walk Butterfly Loop. This trail encircles a portion of our 37-acre meadow we call First Field.

A bear family photographed by Dave in Plummer’s Hollow.

A bear family photographed by Dave in Plummer’s Hollow.

Often I’m treated to a stunning sunset, and always I hear and see songbirds that prefer a meadow of forbs or the edge of a wooded ridge.

Sometimes I glimpse a herd of deer before they see me and run off. Once I watched a raccoon set out for the evening along the edge of First Field, and several times I’ve encountered a porcupine grazing on the grasses.

On my July birthday last year I had made a note of the abundant ripe huckleberries on the powerline right-of-way near the Short Circuit Trail and had stood in the cool morning eating them by the handfuls.

That evening, on Butterfly Loop, I scanned the right-of-way with my binoculars. To my surprise, I spotted a large black bear doing exactly what I had done in the morning—picking and eating huckleberries.

A black bear eating huckleberries

A black bear eating huckleberries (Photo by Harvey Barrison in Wikipedia, Creative Commons license)

Although bears are omnivores, meaning they’ll eat almost anything, more than 80% of their diet is vegetable matter—grasses and weeds in the spring, wild berries in the summer and nut species in the fall. They are especially fond of blueberries, huckleberries and blackberries.

On my birthday evening, I was pleased to see a bear without it seeing or scenting me and to watch it for half an hour as it moved methodically from patch to patch, peacefully harvesting huckleberries by using its paws to hold the bushes while it broke off berries with its teeth.

Sometimes I could see its face and what appeared to be a single silver disk in the middle of each ear, but I was too far away to tell if they were ear tags. Finally, it disappeared into the taller brush.

We’ve been living with bears for almost four decades, but that was one of the few times I had a chance to observe a bear without it detecting me. Often I’ve turned around on trails when I’ve seen a bear in the distance before it sees me or I step into the underbrush and wait for it to pass. But if it’s too close, I have to stand my ground.

The Laurel Ridge Trail of Plummer’s Hollow, a good place to see bears

The Laurel Ridge Trail of Plummer’s Hollow, a good place to see bears (Photo by Dave Bonta)

For instance, late last May, as I ambled along Laurel Ridge Trail on my morning walk, a large black sow emerged from the right side of the forest at the top of a steep incline. I expected her to cross the trail, but instead, she turned and started toward me, followed by her yearling cub.

I froze in place and considered my options. She was less than 100 feet away and moving quickly so turning around didn’t seem like a good idea. Because nearly always, talking to wild animals scares them away, first I said quietly, “You don’t want to come this way.”

The bears paused and then haltingly continued moving forward. Next I clapped my hands, a maneuver I had never tried before, and immediately the sow turned and ran into the woods on the left side of the trail.

A bear mother with her yearling cub

A bear mother with her yearling cub (Photo by beingmyelf on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

But the cub still hesitated until I clapped my hands again. Then it ran after the sow, and I proceeded on my way, surprised to realize that after numerous peaceful encounters with bears, I didn’t even have an elevated heartbeat.

A week later on the first of June, my husband, Bruce, went for a walk in the foggy dawn and saw a bear on Laurel Ridge. During my walk, I found many fresh scratches on the Laurel Ridge power pole, reminding me of a time, many Junes ago, when I heard and then watched a boar raking a power pole with his claws and then turning and rubbing his back against it. This was another case where the bear didn’t see or scent me even though I was only 50 feet away from him.

Powerline pole on the ridgetop marked by bears (Photo by Dave Bonta)

Powerline pole on the ridgetop marked by bears (Photo by Dave Bonta)

Researchers still aren’t certain why black bears do this, but tree or, in our case, pole-marking behavior does occur more often during the June breeding season. However, Bruce once watched a bear shredding a power pole near the Short Circuit Trail in August. And the power poles atop Sapsucker Ridge have even more claw marks, administered throughout the year, than those on Laurel Ridge. Because of this, I’m more inclined to consider them message poles that inform other bears of their size and presence.

Lynn Rogers, who has been studying black bears in Minnesota for decades, found that most of his radio-collared tree-markers were male bears. Right after they marked a tree, Rogers was able to smell their scent on the tree. Since bears have a much stronger sense of smell than we do, Rogers thought that bears could smell the trees long after they had been marked. Perhaps, he theorized, such trees may warn males that other males are near so they can avoid fights.

Bears mating

Bears mating (Photo by the North American Bear Center on Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)

There’s no doubt that male bears are excited during mating season. The only time I was chased by a bear was when a male apparently mistook me for a sow. I had been sitting quietly in First Field near some shrubs when I heard a bear and stood up. As I started walking around the shrubs, I realized the bear was close behind me. Again I turned around and spoke to him. He stopped short, wheeled around, and headed off to find a female of his own species.

By the time females are in estrous, they have chased off their yearlings. Two weeks after I encountered sow and cub, first Bruce saw a yearling streaking across Greenbrier Trail near its confluence with Bird Count Trail and later our son Dave saw what was probably the same yearling still running straight out, this time across Ten Springs Trail. Probably either the sow or her paramour were chasing her persistent cub away.

Female yearlings will stay in the sow’s territory, researchers have found, but male cubs have to leave the area and try to find a place that has no bears. Male territories are larger than those of females and usually include two or more females. Territory and range size vary depending on food sources.

Bears of both sexes have been known to wander off their ranges for miles in search of food, especially in autumn when the acorn and/or beechnut crops fail because they rely on the high fat content of those foods to put on weight before winter.

Last summer our berry crops were huge, especially blackberries, and we picked over 50 quarts. Our lowbush blueberry crop was poor; our huckleberry crop adequate. Later, the black cherry crop was also poor, the wild grape crop average, and the acorns, hickory nuts and beechnuts scant.

Black bear scat filled with berry seeds

Black bear scat filled with berry seeds (Photo by Courtney Celley/USFWS on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

We didn’t have any other bear encounters, but I did find piles of bear scat filled with berry seeds and later with corn, presumably from the valley farms. Unlike bears in wilderness areas, our bears can depend on cultivated crops if the wild ones fail. Here in Pennsylvania, there are many sources of food from farms and forests—carrion from domestic as well as wild animals and fresh insects, reptiles, amphibians, small mammals and even new born fawns.

As the years have passed, we’ve had our behavior shaped by bear appetites. When we heard a bear overturn the garbage can with what we thought was a tight lid to cover itself with sunflower seed, we put the bird feeder cans in our basement. When we were awakened another night by a bear emptying our washed recycled cans, also in clean garbage cans, we put them in the basement.

We bring in our bird feeders every night during November, most of December, March and early April and then retire them until the following fall. And since a sow with her cubs broke through our kitchen screen door two years ago and was climbing in when we sent her off one summer night, we close all doors and windows in our kitchen in the evening, no matter how stifling the weather.

But even that sacrifice is worth it to live with bears. Here is a video of a bear family filmed by Dave in Plummer’s Hollow.

Watcher at the Nest

Last April our son Dave, my husband Bruce, and caretakers Troy and Paula spotted a male pileated woodpecker excavating a nest hole in a 60-foot-high, barkless elm snag. At first I wasn’t interested. I had often seen pileateds working on nest holes, and they had never amounted to anything, because pileateds had been making one of several nest starts before settling on a final one.

A male pileated woodpecker feeding on a tree

A male pileated woodpecker feeding on a tree (Photo by Joshlaymon on Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)

But by April 21 the male pileated was still working on the nest. That’s when I decided to spend some quality time watching the nest builder.

The elm snag was in Margaret’s Woods, several hundred feet away from our caretakers’ home and a few hundred feet from the tree where Dave and Rachel had watched a pileated nest in 2012. The snag was typical of many pileated nest trees but the habitat was unusual. Margaret’s Woods was once an apple orchard and is now a young forest filled with a dense understory of invasive stiltgrass and barberry shrubs. The snag was in an open patch of stiltgrass. Near the edge of the patch, I found a pile of old logs, 30 feet from the nest hole, where I could sit. But since it was a late spring, no vegetation hid me.

A male pileated excavating a hole for a nest

A male pileated excavating a hole for a nest (Photo by Andrea Westmoreland on Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)

The male pileated worked on the nest hole 40 feet high above two other holes, which had been roost holes. While he loosened the wood inside the snag by chipping at it, his long tail outside the snag matched the rhythm of his chipping until not only his head disappeared into the hole, but his upper back too, leaving only his rear end and tail outside the hole.

Then he pulled his head out and tossed several beakfuls of wood chips out of the cavity. He did this twice while I watched through my binoculars and was seemingly undisturbed by my presence.

Another pileated male excavating a nest hole

Another pileated male excavating a nest hole (Photo by D. Gordon E. Robertson on Wikipedia, Creative Commons license)

I didn’t always check on the nest during my morning walks. Because it was spring, I had to watch wood frogs on our vernal ponds, search for blooming wildflowers and shrubs, record returning songbirds, and enjoy a host of close encounters with mammals and birds along the nearly ten miles of trails on our square mile of mountain land. But during the last couple days in April and the first of May, whenever one of us walked past the nest tree, the male pileated was sitting in the nest hole peering out.

Throughout the rest of May, none of us saw any action in or near the nest hole. Fooled again, I thought. Maybe the male pileated I saw excavating a hole in a live, leaning chestnut oak tree near our deer exclosure, back on April 24, was the same male and that was an active pileated nest. But it also appeared deserted.

Rachel and Dave saw a young pileated peering out of a hole in Margaret’s Woods, May 2012

Rachel and Dave saw a young pileated peering out of a hole in Margaret’s Woods, May 2012 (Photo by Rachel Rawlins, used with permission)

Then, on June 7, Dave saw a young pileated peering out of the elm snag nest hole in Margaret’s Woods. I was astounded and did some quick calculations based on pileated woodpecker research by ornithologists. Pileated nestlings are known to perch at nest holes when they are 20 to 23 days old. If so, they had hatched around May 18.

Incubation by both parents takes between 14 and 18 days. Most likely, the male had begun incubating the eggs when he had been sitting in the nest hole. Ornithologists also estimate that it takes 23 days to excavate the nest, which meant the whole process had begun around April 9.

A female pileated on an ash tree in North Carolina

A female pileated on an ash tree in North Carolina (Photo by DickDaniels on Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)

Lawrence Kilham, who spent many days watching pileateds, wrote that “Each nest watched was different and many nests, located in quiet woodland, were remarkably free from interference.” He also wrote that “Pileateds…prefer to nest in stubs that are free of old holes,” which can shelter black snakes, gray squirrels, or screech owls, known predators on eggs and young.

Margaret’s Woods was a reasonable quiet woodland, but the elm snag did have those two other holes, proving Kilham’s point that each nest is different and that pileateds are opportunists. Unlike their close relatives, ivory-billed woodpeckers, which required southeastern bottomland forests far from humans, the crow-sized pileateds with bright red crests have adjusted to a wide variety of habitats from the coniferous forests of the Pacific Northwest to the recovering forests of eastern North America, thriving in coniferous, deciduous and mixed forests.

Late in the afternoon of June 7, I slipped over to the pileated tree and saw a head repeatedly poking out of the nest hole. This time it was a female pileated nestling awaiting the return of her parents. Both feed their young by regurgitation, inserting their bills into the throats of their offspring which suck and jerk their heads as many as four times at once. I could also hear the “churring” noise the nestlings make when they are hungry.

Pileated chicks looking out of a nest cavity in Margaret’s Woods

Pileated chicks looking out of a nest cavity in Margaret’s Woods (Photo by Rachel Rawlins, used with permission)

Because of stormy weather, it wasn’t until three days later that I was able to return to the nest site. I sat on the old log, now partially screened from the nestlings by striped maple and catalpa leaves. At 9:35 a.m. the heads of two youngsters were out of the cavity and repeatedly making rasping noises. The adults “cuk, cukked” and drummed in the distance.

By 10:00, the nestlings were halfway out of the cavity rasping loudly when they heard a parent close by. Finally, the female pileated landed on the side of the nest tree and poked her long bill down each of their throats three times before flying away.

Still the nestlings kept up their begging calls and I was able to distinguish the female nestling from the male. She had a crest that wasn’t as large as the male’s and she lacked the male’s dark red line on the side of his jaw. Both were a bit fuzzy looking, their crests developed but not as erect as their parents’ crests.

A pileated feeding its chicks

A pileated feeding its chicks (Photo by Rachel Rawlins, used with permission)

Nine minutes later an adult called nearby and was answered by another farther away. Then the adult male landed nearby on a dead tree close to the ground already partially stripped of bark and flaked off more in search of carpenter ants and beetle larvae. From there he flew to another leaning dead tree and kept up a chuckling call as he worked around the area. The female was close by, answering the male, while the young never stopped their begging calls, their heads and half their bodies out of the nest hole.

The male flew up and fed only once before flying over to the other side of the snag and then to a nearby tree, chuckling as he worked. I heard a crow and wondered if the male wasn’t staying close to make certain the crows didn’t raid their nest.

At 10:32 the female flew in, landed next to the youngsters and moved her head back and forth as if deciding which of her screaming offspring to feed. Four times she fed the male and never once the female even though she begged as hard as her sibling.

After that, the female nestling disappeared into the cavity, leaving her brother to beg. Once the male parent fed him, he too finally withdrew into the nest cavity, and I continued my walk at 10:52.

A female pileated on a log probing for ants with her long tongue

A female pileated on a log probing for ants with her long tongue (Photo by AndrewBrownsword on Wikipedia, in the public domain)

The following morning I was again watching as both nestlings had their heads out of the nest hole. Then the male withdrew, and the female kept pulling in and out of the cavity, opening and closing her beak and revealing her pointed, barbed tongue which pileateds use to extract ants from wood tunnels.

An adult called nearby, and both youngsters looked around and eventually started their begging calls. He “churred” in one direction and she in another, but no parent appeared.

The next morning both nestlings poked their heads in and out of the nest and “churred.” He also “wuk-wukked” like an adult. His crest was more developed, and he kept pushing down his sibling and dominating the nest hole. It started to rain and I retreated for the day.

A pileated chick ready to fledge

A pileated chick ready to fledge (Photo by Jan Barrett, Seney Natural History Association, on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

The following morning there was no sign of the female nestling. The male had his head out of the hole and was practicing adult calls. An adult drummed in the distance. Then the male parent flew in fast, fed the youngster twice, flew to a nearby snag, and drummed loudly twice.  The youngster answered with a loud call. They continued the drum and call response between parent and nestling as the parent flew farther away as if trying to lure him from the nest.

Sometimes a parent drummed in response to the nestling; sometimes it “wuk-wukked.” Once I saw the male nestling’s tongue flick in and out fast as if he was eating insects around the nest hole.

That afternoon, Dave saw four pileateds, two parents and two fledglings, in our yard. They had fledged at about 27 days of age and would stay with their parents until September, learning how to obtain their own food. Although the nest cavity was empty, we continued to see them in Margaret’s Woods and in other parts of our forest throughout the summer.

I’ll conclude by embedding a video that Dave took here on June 8, 2010, of a pileated foraging in some trees and a snag not far from his front porch.

Two Book Reviews

I’ve decided to start periodically putting up book reviews I’ve been writing for our Juniata Valley Audubon Society’s The Gnatcatcher in the belief that reading books with a nature theme is important for those of us who love the natural world. Here is the one from the November/December 2015 issue:

Above the Waterfall coverRecently I’ve read two novels steeped in their natural surroundings.  Above the Waterfall by poet and novelist Ron Rash takes place in western North Carolina.  The chapters are related by two alternating voices.

Becky is a state park ranger, psychologically damaged by a childhood trauma only helped by a summer she spent nearby with her grandparents.  To her, life in the Appalachians as an adult is a return to the safety she felt then, and hers is the poetic voice—“the hummingbird nest at the meadow edge—a strawy thimble, the hummingbird’s wings—stained glass alive in sudden sunlight shimmer, wildflowers sway in their floral abundance, the grasshopper’s rasping papyrus wings…”

Les is the fifty-year-old, soon-to-be-retired county sheriff who is tired, after 30 years, and wants to return to a simpler life in a dream cabin he has designed after making what he thinks were major mistakes in his life.

Both Becky and Les are faced with an environmental mystery.  Who poisoned the local trout stream?  Neither think the obvious suspect poured kerosene into a stream he loves.  How this mystery is solved provides the plot, but I will remember Becky’s poetic voice long after I forget the story line of this satisfying novel.

Martin Marten coverMartin Marten by poet, essayist, and novelist Brian Doyle takes place in the backwoods of the Pacific Northwest.  Dave is an honorable, young teenager, Martin Marten is a wild creature, facing adversaries, both wild and human, but who is fascinated by Dave.

How both learn and grow and the quirky adults they associate with, including a sympathetic portrait of a trapper, is the major theme of this book.  There is a touch of magical realism that appeals to all of us who wish for a similar relationship with a wild creature.

Unfortunately, martens were extirpated from Pennsylvania around 1900 by trapping and the elimination of old growth coniferous and mixed deciduous/coniferous forests, which are their preferred habitats.  Smaller than a fisher and larger than a mink, this sleek, handsome member of the Weasel Family only lives in the East in New England, the Adirondacks, northern Michigan and northern Wisconsin now.

But the inquisitive, curious nature of martens is well-known and Brian Doyle’s portrayal of Martin is spot on.  We can only regret the extirpation of such a fascinating creature from our state after reading this wonderful book.


The Masked Bandit

It is late afternoon on May Day, and the masked bandit is standing on the stoop of our veranda door. He looks around alertly as I speak to him.

“What are you doing here?” I ask.

Common yellowthroat male

Common yellowthroat male (Photo by DanPancamo on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

He doesn’t seem inclined to move or to answer. After all, he’s only a songbird who sings “witchedy, witchedy,” and he doesn’t even honor me with his song.

Instead, he flies up along the edge of the house as if he is looking for insects. Then he lands in front of the living room window, and I wonder if he has seen his reflection in the glass. Or had he previously noticed his reflection in the storm door and wished to fight his rival.

He flies back to that door and looks as if he wants to go inside. Finally, he flies up to the transom above the door and pecks at his reflection. Apparently, he does see a rival in his reflection, but he is not as persistent as towhees and cardinals, both of which have tapped for hours and many weeks on our windows.

Common yellowthroat male singing

Common yellowthroat male singing (Photo by Andy Morffew on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

After a few minutes, he flies back down to the stoop and then suddenly silently flies away. That is the last we see of him around our home, although we hear plenty from him and other common yellowthroats throughout the breeding season. Still, I am left with more questions than answers about his visit and readily admit that despite watching birds for most of my life, I am still puzzled by much of their behavior.

The name of this warbler “common” describes its ubiquitous presence during the nesting season in most of North America from every province in Canada to western Mexico, and its position as the number one or possibly two most common breeding warbler in Pennsylvania. Its “yellowthroat” refers to its bright yellow throat, chin and breast.

A female common yellowthroat

A female common yellowthroat (Photo by D. Gordon E. Robertson in Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)

But I prefer my name for the male common yellowthroat, the “masked bandit” because of his distinctive black mask outlined above in white which separates his black forehead and mask from his olive head, back, and wings. The female is plain olive with a pale yellow chin, throat, and breast, ideal for blending into the shrubby habitat where she builds her nest and cares for her young.

Ornithologists have distinguished 15 subspecies of common yellowthroats based mostly on slight variations in their color, size, wing and tail proportions. Our common yellowthroat Geothlypis trichas trichas, once split into the northern and Maryland yellowthroats, has now been combined and ranges from Newfoundland west through Ontario and Minnesota, south to east Texas and east to the Appalachians and includes the rest of eastern United States and Canada, but excludes the coastal Carolinas and most of Georgia and Alabama (subspecies typhicola) and Florida (ignota).

First collected in Maryland, the common yellowthroat was one of the first birds described from the New World by the pioneering Swedish taxonomist Carl Linnaeus back in 1766. He named it Geothlypis meaning “a kind of finch of the earth” and trichas meaning “a thrush,” because European warblers hadn’t been classified at that time. Even later, taxonomists discovered that European warblers are not related to New World warblers, hence the designation of our warblers as “wood warblers.”

A common yellowthroat in Chester County, Pennsylvania

A common yellowthroat in Chester County, Pennsylvania (Photo by Kelly Colgan Azar on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Not all New World warblers favor woods including the common yellowthroat. It prefers dry or wet shrubby growth in weedy fields and marshes on both their breeding and wintering grounds. Since we have a weedy wetland and an upland dry weedy field, our land supports several breeding yellowthroats. I suspect our veranda visitor was claiming the overgrown beginnings of our stream as his territory.

Male common yellowthroats arrive in our area a week ahead of the females, usually in late April or early May and vigorously defend their territory from encroaching males, although real fighting with each other increases with the arrival of females.

The females signal they are ready for breeding by fluttering their wings and tail and chipping quickly. Once they pair up, males follow their mates closely, probably hoping to prevent the sometimes polyandrous females from copulating with other males.

A common yellowthroat nest

A common yellowthroat nest (Photo by Kent McFarland on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Nest building by females begins almost immediately after they choose a site on or near the heavily vegetated ground, and their nests are supported by sedges and grasses, cattails, briars or reeds. Finding their nests is difficult because they are well concealed. In addition, both males and females are extremely secretive, sneaking through the underbrush on pathways hidden by thick vegetation when a human approaches a female sitting on her nest or later, after the eggs hatch, when they are feeding nestlings.

Females lay on average four white eggs spotted or blotched gray, reddish-brown, lilac, or black. They incubate the eggs 12 days, and their nestlings are totally helpless when they hatch. But they grow amazingly fast and while they are able to fledge at eight days by climbing over the edge of their nests and moving into heavy vegetation, most wait until they are 12 days old to fledge.

A male common yellowthroat preparing to feed its nestlings

A male common yellowthroat preparing to feed its nestlings (Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Both parents have been feeding them and continue to do so for three weeks while the fledglings strengthen their wings and move into nearby woods or thickets. In Pennsylvania common yellowthroats are forest edge species and nest building begins here the first week in May. The Second Atlas of Breeding Birds in Pennsylvania observers reported seeing young through July which suggests that they may have two broods.

Common yellowthroats are wholly insectivorous, eating beetles, grubs, the larvae and adults of moths and butterflies, flies, ants, spiders, plant lice, leaf hoppers and leaf rollers, gleaning food for themselves and their young from the ground or shrubbery. As long ago as 1907, E.H. Forbush in Massachusetts watched a male common yellowthroat eat 52 gypsy moth larvae before flying away and concluded that the yellowthroat was an efficient enemy of the pest. He also saw a yellowthroat eat 89 aphids in a minute. Another researcher found that yellowthroats consumed large numbers of cankerworms in orchards.

Both eggs and nestlings are preyed on probably by snakes, mice, chipmunks, skunks, opossums, and raccoons and adults are occasionally caught by loggerhead shrikes, merlins, American kestrels and northern harriers.

A common yellowthroat female feeding a brown-headed cowbird fledgling

A common yellowthroat female feeding a brown-headed cowbird fledgling (Photo by Bill Thompson/USFWS on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

But the parasitizing of their nests by brown-headed cowbirds may be the greatest threat to yellowthroats. One study, of 20 nests with cowbird eggs, found that only three produced young yellowthroats. On the other hand, some yellowthroats seem to recognize cowbird eggs or notice that their own eggs have been removed and replaced by those of cowbirds, and they build a second nest or even a third one on top of the parasitized nest.

By the third week of August some common yellowthroats in Pennsylvania start their migration south, although the peak is during the second and third weeks of September. Flying through the night, adults and immature birds head for the Caribbean islands or Central America all the way to Panama, seeking the same shrubby vegetation to spend the winter. However, at least those wintering in Quintana Roo, Mexico, are segregated by sex with males preferring second-growth scrub and natural open habitat and the females more common in open pastures and fields according to a 1990 study by A.L. Ornat and R. Greenberg.

Like many songbirds, even those as numerous as the common yellowthroat, there have been no long-term studies of their breeding biology or behavior, but recently there has been interest in their song and singing behavior. Even though I’ve heard only their “witchedy, witchedy” song and scolding notes, it turns out that their song varies in the number of notes per phrase, enough that their mates can distinguish them from other males.

A juvenile male common yellowthroat, which learns its calls by listening to adult males

A juvenile male common yellowthroat, which learns its calls by listening to adult males (Photo by DickDaniels on Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)

Male nestlings learn their song by listening to adult male yellowthroats, but, in some cases, both in captivity and in the wild, they learn other songs as well. One wild yellowthroat in Massachusetts sang his own song in addition to a perfect rendition of a chestnut-sided warbler’s song. And a captive yellowthroat learned a yellow warbler’s song.

Thinking back to the many male common yellowthroats I’ve encountered over the years, including our veranda visitor, I must agree with Alfred Otto Gross’s description of the birds he spent hours watching from a blind decades ago. …”one is impressed with the vigorous personality of the male. He nervously raises his alarm with a variety of scolding, interrogative chirps and chattering notes and his dark inquisitive eyes sparkle with excitement through the black masks.”