Monday, October 12, 2009

The warbler on my grocery cart

Image from Alan Wilson,

Yellow-rumped warblers have been all over the North Shore this fall. My mother and her friends keyed out the birds that were all over their bird feeder, even cross-checking three different field guides to puzzle out the winter plumage. I've seen these birds skittering through gravel parking lots in Grand Marais and mobbing fields of tansy in Hartley Nature Center, far from their nesting habitat of spruce trees. And yesterday there was even one on my grocery cart.

I saw it first in the quiet, rather neglected natural foods section of the Super One here in Duluth, just a block from the spruce-y sanctuary of Leif Erikson Park. The bird was calm, roosting up high. Young cashiers and baggers came in with a broom and a milk crate to try to trap it, but could not. It didn't flitter and panic like other birds might. Just stayed still up on the top of the shelves.

Next I saw it was in the dairy section. I called out its name, "Yellow-rumped," maybe just to impress the young store workers, but right then the bird came and landed right on the shiny plastic handle of my cart, next to the bananas. I felt honored.

Yellow-rumped Warbler, you have seen it all. You have been "lumped" by the ecologists from two species into one. You have been studied by the late great Robert MacArthur, who found just which part of the spruce tree you fed on, leaving other parts for other warbler species. They say you are "one of the most generalized and opportunistic of all our insectivorous birds."

But you hadn't seen the inside of a store. I hope you found your way out, back on your way to Tennessee or Florida, so you can come back next spring in full regalia.

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