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Fall Flocks Fly South For Warmer Weather

By Sarah Díaz for The Island Eye News

Northern Parula

It has been a busy month at the Sullivan’s Island Bird Banding Station! The month of October is the peak of fall migration along coastal South Carolina. Millions of songbirds follow the Southeastern coastline as their migration pathway to their wintering grounds in the tropics. This week, I banded a variety of warblers in the Protected Land, including Ovenbirds, American Redstarts, Black-throated Blue Warblers, and Northern Parulas. The Northern Parula pictured here is a young male. I determined the age of this bird by looking at several plumage characteristics. The shape of the tail is a helpful indicator: Narrow, tapered tips of the rectrices (tail feathers) are indicative of a younger bird, while broader tips are characteristic of an older bird. The shape of the primary wing coverts is a more reliable tool for ageing. I like to use a jeweler’s optivisor to better see these tiny wing feathers. 

Translucent, tapered and abraded primary coverts are typical in young hatching year birds, while older birds have broader, bolder coverts with bright edging. I determined the sex of this bird based on its body plumage. Relatively bright coloring and a thin slate colored breast band point to a male. 

Younger females lack the slate band and have duller plumage. 

This tiny bird is on his way to the Caribbean or Central America! He used the Protected Land on Sullivan’s Island as a stopover location to rest and refuel. 

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