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Saturday, April 20, 2013

One of our Least Known Warblers: Grace's Warbler

[Rose Canyon, Mt. Lemmon "Sky Island", Arizona. April 2013]

Grace's Warbler is one of our least studied warblers. Found in pine forests of the Southwestern US [and further South into Central America], it is a bird of the high canopy. Although described by Baird in 1865, it was discovered by Elliott Coues the year earlier and Baird honored Couse's request that the warbler be named after Grace Coues, Elliott's sister.

A striking warbler, Grace's is mostly grey on top with white undersides transitioning into a brilliant yellow throat and breast. Two white wingbars and a yellow eyebrow and half eye-ring complete the description. Black streaks are found on the flanks and chest.

Male Grace's Warbler seen at Rose Canyon.

Grace's Warbler up close.
This is the least studied warbler in the US and all the usual online sources on North American birds have very little information on its ecology, breeding habits and movements.
Elsewhere in Rose Canyon, a Red Crossbill was spotted alternately perched and feeding off the ground.
However, the most conspicuous bird was the Yellow-eyed Junco. This is a Central American sparrow whose range centers from Guatemala through Mexico and just barely extends into Southern Arizona.
Yellow-eyed Junco.
This striking sparrow differs in a couple of key respects with the Dark-eyed Junco -- the bright, cat-like yellow eyes [of course]; and, the bi-colored bill (dark above; light below).
Also seen in the woods was Western Bluebird. This brilliant-blue thrush can easily be distinguished from its Eastern cousin by its deeper colors and blue instead of rufous throat.

The other warbler seen, another Arizona specialty, was the Painted Redstart. This warbler is unmistakeable and would be hard to confuse with any other species given the glossy black upperparts, blood-red breast, and white wing patches.

This charismatic warbler is unique in other ways as well. It is the only Whitestart found in the US; and is one of the few warblers where the female sings as well.

There are 17 "Painted" species of birds in the World. If you live in the US, you only have to bird 2 of them: this species and Painted Bunting. Here is the full list of birds named "Painted", their scientific names and population classifications:

    Australian Painted Snipe Rostratula australis (EN)
    Greater Painted-snipe Rostratula benghalensis (LC)
    Painted Bunting Passerina ciris (NT)
    Painted Bush-quail Perdicula erythrorhyncha (LC)
    Painted Buttonquail Turnix varius (LC)
    Painted Finch Emblema pictum (LC)
    Painted Francolin Francolinus pictus (LC)
    Painted Honeyeater Grantiella picta (VU)
    Painted Parakeet Pyrrhura picta (LC)
    Painted Quail-thrush Cinclosoma ajax (LC)
    Painted Redstart Myioborus pictus (LC)
    Painted Sandgrouse Pterocles indicus (LC)
    Painted Spurfowl Galloperdix lunulata (LC)
    Painted Stork Mycteria leucocephala (NT)
    Painted Tiger-parrot Psittacella picta (LC)
    Painted Tody-flycatcher Todirostrum pictum (LC)
    South American Painted-snipe Rostratula semicollaris (LC)

The "Sky Islands" of Arizona are famed for their unparalleled birding; and, dazzlers such as Grace's Warbler, Painted Redstart, and Yellow-eyed Junco are testament to the quality of the varied birdlife found here.

Link to Rose Canyon map: Map

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