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Sure, a variety of birds have been migrating through central Illinois since February. During the late winter and early spring something like 240 species of birds belonging to 39 families pass this way.
But for most birders, the highlight of spring is songbird migration, and that becomes most intense over the next few of weeks.
[Photos by author: hooded warbler, black and white warbler; summer tanager.]
There are great numbers of birds and a great variety of species represented in this wave, hundreds of thousands of individuals belonging to more than 120 species. The most dazzling among them are members of a family of birds known as warblers, which are incredibly colorful little birds that average only about a third of an ounce in weight. Although they are small, warblers migrate long distances, from wintering ranges in Mexico, Central, and South America to breeding areas in the U.S. and Canada.
As they move north, warblers feed on insects, especially the caterpillars, bees and wasps that populate the crowns of trees as they flower and leaf out. (This habit of the birds accounts for a condition that afflicts birders known as “warbler neck.” That’s the pain you experience when you spend too much time looking up.)
It seems almost foolish to try to describe in words the vivid beauty that prompts birders to get out before sunrise day after day. Some warblers are all about color. The blackburnian warbler’s throat and head, for instance, exhibit such a bright combination of orange and yellow that it looks to be on fire. And the —well, if you’ve only experienced “cerulean” as the color of a crayon, you’ve got to see this bird. Other warblers are about patterns. The aptly named , for example, makes up for its lack of color in the same way a zebra does, by sporting stripes so bold they appear to be painted.
hosted by the Champaign County Audubon Society at Busey Woods and Crystal Lake Park in Urbana. Walks start out from the parking lot of the Anita Purves Nature center at 7:30 a.m. and last until about 9:00--although certain people hang out much later when the birding is good.