BLACK AND WHITE WARBLER – (Mniotilta varia)
This warbler species forages not like your usual warbler, but rather like a nuthatch, i.e. going up and down tree trunks and branches in search of insects and spiders, helped in this behavior by a long hind claw. The bill too is different for a warbler – longer and slightly down-curved, a specialization that helps foraging.
As the English name implies, the adult breeding male is mainly striped in black and white. There is a white stripe above the eye. The under parts are also streaked. Females and juveniles have the same color patterns, although duller. A similar species, the Blackpoll warbler, has a shorter bill and a solid black cap. The under parts are also white without streaks. The bird is approximately 11 cm (5 in.) long.
Warblers are thus called thanks to their generally melodious songs. The Latin genus name ‘Mniotilta’ is from ancient Greek and means ‘plucked moss’, due to the erroneous belief that this warbler species was lining its nest with that material (Ernest Choate). And the Latin species name ‘varia’ means ‘variegated’, in reference to its plumage pattern.
The black and white warbler breeds on PEI and is common on the island in the spring and summer. Its overall breeding range covers much of the southern half of Canada east of the Rockies, and much of the eastern half of the USA. The wintering range of this warbler species extends from Florida and Mexico south to the northern tip of South America.
Forests constitute the bird’s summer range. The wintering habitat of this warbler species is quite broad, including parks, gardens and other city areas, wetlands, orchards and plantations.
The Black and white warbler nests on the ground near a tree. The nest is lined with conifer needles, leaves and other plant material, but NOT moss. It is a rather aggressive species, even outside the breeding season, and will chase away intruders from its claimed territory.
Conservation: The population of this warbler species has declined by a third in the last few decades, but it does not yet appear on any list of threatened birds. Some of the factors that may impact its numbers include persistent insecticides in their environment and the fragmentation of forests.