PRAIRIE WARBLER – (Setophaga discolor)
The Prairie Warbler is a small song bird that measures around 12 cm (5 in.) long. The crown and upper parts are olive green and the under parts are yellow with black stripes on the sides. There is some chesnut spotting on the back. The tail has some white spots. The wings show faint yellow bars. The face is yellow with two black stripes, one going across the eyes, which are dark. The bill and legs are grey. Females are a washed out version of the males with no black stripes.
In spite of being called ‘Prairie’ warbler, this species is not found in a prairie habitat, but rather in forest areas that were cut or burned and provide new shrub growth, and also in open woods. Warblers are thus called thanks to their generally melodious songs. The Latin name ‘Setophaga’ means ‘to eat moths’, in reference to the bird’s diet, and ‘discolor’ comes from Old French ‘descolorer’, to change color.
The habitat of this warbler is usually not permanent (it is successional) because re-growing forests become mature, so the species will move to more open spaces. In addition, it can also be found in coastal mangroves and dense shrubs.
Its diet is made of insects for the most part, also arthropods such as spiders and myriapods, and berries when available. These warblers flick their tails while foraging on foliage, sometimes hanging upside down on branches or catching insects on the fly.
Prairie warblers are often victims of brood parasitism by the Brown-headed Cowbird, which has a negative impact on the survival of that species. The female builds the nest, an open cup lined with plant material and animal hair. Parents may raise two broods per season, but this still doesn’t make up for the loss from parasitism.
The prairie warbler does not breed on PEI, and the occurrence of this bird species on the island has been recorded as accidental only so far, in the fall. Its overall breeding range is mainly located in the eastern USA with some rare individuals breeding in southern Ontario. It migrates to Florida and the Caribbean for the winter.
Conservation: in spite of a population decline of around two-thirds in the last 50 years, this species is still listed as of ‘least concern’ by the IUCN, but it is on the watch list of the 2014 State of the Birds for the USA. The latter listing means that the species needs some conservation program intervention. One such program is the Central Hardwoods Joint Venture. Threats to the prairie warbler include brood mortality from brown-headed cowbird parasitism, and habitat loss.