Wow, it is always exciting to break a record and Dianne Powers did so recently. Dianne and I were both at Davis Solon and Gina Lombardi’s wedding reception when Dianne whipped out a photograph of a bird. Dianne continued by saying she thought the bird was a worm-eating warbler, was she right? Right as rain, said I, and what a find!

I asked Dianne when she saw the bird. She said it hit her bay window on Sept. 5 and stunned itself. Dianne left the bird alone and eventually the warbler flew off. Why all the excitement? This is the first fall record for a worm-eating warbler since 1984! And worm-eating warblers have never been very common on the Vineyard at any time of the year; there are only nine spring records.

Worm-eating warblers have a limited distribution, rarely traveling west of the Mississippi River and nesting on slopes in dense forests. Their population is tenuous. As more forests are cleared for housing and other buildings, these dull green warblers with buff and black head stripes lose nesting and feeding grounds.

The worm-eating warblers are rarely seen outside the heavy woods where they feed and breed. Unlike their name, they do not eat earthworms. They do eat non-hairy caterpillars, spiders, walking sticks, bugs, ants, bees and beetles. Watching these warblers feed is great sport, as they walk around on the forest floor turning over and probing curled leaves to extract insects. They also use their long skinny bills to probe under the bark of the trunks and limbs of trees close to the ground.

The worm-eating warbler builds a nest on the ground. The location is usually on the side of a hill nestled up against a tree or shrub. The female builds this nest in a cup shape, concealed in a drift of leaves and lined with animal hair, haircap mosses and stems of maple seeds. The female lays three to six eggs, and thirteen days later the young hatch. These young worm-eating warblers fledge ten days later.

Brown-headed cowbirds will parasitize the worm-eating warbler’s nest if given a chance. Luckily, by nesting deep in the woods, these lovely warblers have avoided that in the past. However, more forests are being opened up and cowbirds will present an increased threat.

There are many interesting warblers visiting the Vineyard at this time of year. So keep your eyes open — you may have a chance to break a record!

Bird Sightings:

Judy Neeld called to say that she had a visit from a black-throated blue warbler. The warbler was hawking insects in her lilac bush in Menemsha on Sept. 11.

The same day I joined Allan Keith on his survey of Cape Pogue and Wasque. We spotted about 50 species; some of the highlights were a nice flock of warblers at Cape Pogue, including pine, prairie, magnolia, northern parula, black and white, American redstart, common yellowthroat and yellow-breasted chat. We also saw warbling and red-eyed vireos, Baltimore oriole and dickcissel. We estimated over 5,000 tree swallows at Cape Pogue. A merlin, northern harrier and three ospreys were the raptors we spotted. The best shorebirds we had were a western willet, a lesser yellowlegs and a spotted sandpiper.

Laurie Walker and Katharine Colon went to Aquinnah on the 12th and found Allan Keith, Lanny McDowell, Peter Gilmore and Sally Anderson. Their best birds were dickcissel, Cape May, prairie, and pine warblers, northern flicker and Cooper’s hawk.

Sept. 13 Laurie Walker had an eastern kingbird and red-eyed vireo at her Chilmark feeder, and on the 15th in Menemsha she spotted a merlin and a snowy egret.

Rob Culbert birded Christiantown on Sept. 14. He had black-throated blue and pine warblers and also a couple of vireos he thought might be yellow-throated vireos. These are pretty rare on the Island and can look a lot like pine warblers in the fall. Allan Keith went up the following day to try to find the vireos to no avail. Rob said the flock he was watching that had the vireos moved on before he left. Rob also had ruby-crowned kinglets, eastern wood pewee and solitary sandpiper. He also had two sharp-shinned hawks buzz by at Duarte’s Pond on his way home.

Al Sgroi was at Katama on Sept. 14 and was pleased to see that the buff-breasted sandpipers were still there as were the American golden plovers. But his best birds were a pair of whimbrels.

Sept. 16 Allan Keith and I birded Aquinnah separately for a while and then joined forces. Our combined highlights included five blackpolls, two prairies and a bay-breasted warbler, an American redstart, a female Cooper’s hawk, a sharp-shinned hawk, a merlin, four Baltimore orioles, a red-breasted nuthatch, a common yellowthroat and a ruby-throated hummingbird. Our two best birds were a least flycatcher and a brown thrasher both by the Vanderhoop Homestead.

Later in the day Allan had three green-winged teal in his pond at Turtle Brook Farm in Chilmark. At Christiantown Allan had a nice flock of warblers including black and white, blue-winged, black-throated green, black-throated blue, northern parula and Nashville.

Penny Uhlendorf and Scott Stephens checked out Duarte’s Pond recently and spotted several great blue herons and sanderlings.

Emmett Carroll spotted a black skimmer on Long Point in Menemsha Pond on Sept. 16 — he added that it had been there for about a week.

There still was a ruby-throated hummingbird at our Quansoo feeder on Sept. 17.


Please report your bird sightings to the Bird Hotline at 508-627-4922 or e-mail to

Susan B. Whiting is the co-author of Vineyard Birds and newly published Vineyard Birds II and led bird tours for Osprey Tours for 30 years to Central and South America.

She will lead bird walks from the Agricultural Fairgrounds on Sept. 21 and 28.