By Russ Chappell
The opportunity to spot one of Prescott’s least known yet common birds is rapidly coming to an end, as they will soon migrate to Mexico. Grace’s Warblers are one of the least studied American birds because they reside in forested areas, high in mature pine trees, where they forage for insects and spiders, raise their young, and rarely pose in open vegetation. They are, however, sometimes visible flying from the treetops while hovering and catching insects in mid-air.
Grace’s Warblers are named for the sister of renowned ornithologist Elliott Couse, who first discovered the species here in Arizona in 1864. Couse is highly respected for his monumental literary works, especially “Key to North American Birds” (1872).
Small song birds in the wood warbler family, Grace’s Warblers are approximately 4.7 inches in length with wingspans of 7.9 inches and weight 0.2 to 0.3 ounces. They’re striking birds featuring yellow chins, throats, and breasts; gray backs; white bellies; black streaks on the sides of their chests and flanks, short yellow eyebrows; yellow crescents under their eyes; two white wing bars; and white spots on their tails. The young are similar but paler and less streaked. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the species is classified as “Least Concern.”
Their nesting habits are largely unknown because their nests are so well hidden. The nests, themselves, are small cups of plant fibers lined with hair and feathers placed high above ground, usually on a pine tree branch. The female lays three to five white or cream-colored eggs that are speckled with brown and ringed at the larger end. The young are primarily fed by the female, though the male occasionally contributes. The age at which young leave the nest isn’t well known. Normally, adults (re)produce two broods per year.
The Grace’s Warbler’s song is a loud musical trill: “tsu tsu tsu ti-ti-ti-ti” quickening toward the end with “che che che che che-che-che-che.” Their call is a soft chip and their in-flight call is a high, thin “fss.”
If you wish to spot this beautiful species this year without a trip south of the border, grab your binoculars and head for the forest today, because soon our Grace’s Warblers will be packing their bags and hitting the migration trail.
The Prescott Audubon Society is an official Chapter of the National Audubon Society. Check them out online at PrescottAudubon.Org.
Russ Chappell is a member of the Prescott Audubon Society and as a helicopter pilot spent much of his life avoiding birds. These days, thanks to mentoring and association with PAS, he enjoys photographing and studying the large number of species in our region and learning to be a better steward of our beautiful natural resources.