The Warbler Guide

The Warbler Guide

Tom Stephenson
Scott Whittle
Drawings by Catherine Hamilton
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 560
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  • Book Info
    The Warbler Guide
    Book Description:

    Warblers are among the most challenging birds to identify. They exhibit an array of seasonal plumages and have distinctive yet oft-confused calls and songs.The Warbler Guideenables you to quickly identify any of the 56 species of warblers in the United States and Canada. This groundbreaking guide features more than 1,000 stunning color photos, extensive species accounts with multiple viewing angles, and an entirely new system of vocalization analysis that helps you distinguish songs and calls.

    The Warbler Guiderevolutionizes birdwatching, making warbler identification easier than ever before. For more information, please see the author videos on the Princeton University Press website.

    Covers all 56 species of warblers in the United States and CanadaVisual quick finders help you identify warblers from any angleSong and call finders make identification easy using a few simple questionsUses sonograms to teach a new system of song identification that makes it easier to understand and hear differences between similar speciesDetailed species accounts show multiple views with diagnostic points, direct comparisons of plumage and vocalizations with similar species, and complete aging and sexing descriptionsNew aids to identification include song mnemonics and icons for undertail pattern, color impression, habitat, and behaviorIncludes field exercises, flight shots, general identification strategies, and quizzesA complete, page-by-page audio companion to all of the 1,000-plus songs and calls covered by the book is available for purchase and download from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Macaulay Library by using the link at

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4686-3
    Subjects: Zoology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. 1-2)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. 3-5)
  3. HOW TO USE THIS BOOK (pp. 6-7)
  4. ICONS AND KEY TERMS (pp. 8-9)
  5. HOW TO USE THE MAPS (pp. 10-11)
  6. TOPOGRAPHIC TOUR (pp. 12-15)
  7. WHAT TO NOTICE ON A WARBLER (pp. 16-55)

    ContrastOne of the primary ways to separate warblers is by contrast. The birds in the Visual Finders are easily separated into two categories: high-contrast birds, which have bold markings and colors, and low-contrast birds, which are drab or plain. There are two basic types of contrast: tonal contrast, when adjacent areas are brighter and darker; and color contrast, where different colors intersect (for example, black and yellow are highly contrasting, while yellow and olive are not). These two types of contrast are not mutually exclusive—often a bird with high tonal contrast also has strong color contrast.

    The well-defined,...


    After identifying a warbler, there is another ID process to pursue: determining the age and sex of the bird. In the past, aging and sexing was largely relegated to banders—people who catch and tag birds for study. The excellent Pyle guide (Identification Guide to North American Birds, parts I and II, by Peter Pyle) is the standard handbook for this activity. Although it has useful aging and sexing information, it focuses primarily on measurements and other “in hand” criteria that often cannot be discerned with binoculars. In this book we have compiled only the characteristics we think are reasonably...


    From X-rays of broken bones to CAT scans of the brain, recent technology has given us the ability to “see” into many heretofore invisible parts of the world. In a similar way, audio spectrograms (or sonograms, for short) allow birders to “see” inside bird vocalizations and provide important clues on how to differentiate similar-sounding species. Sonograms help us understand and learn warbler vocalizations by showing subtle variations in short calls or by making it easier to recognize differences in the larger patterns of complex songs. Once these differences are discerned in sonograms, they become much easier to hear in the...


    One of the joys of spring is hearing the vast profusion of warbler songs as these beautiful birds come north to breed. It is very satisfying to be able to recognize each species by ear, and then set off to find the birds you most want to see.

    Current field guides try to help readers recognize songs by transliterating them from warbler “speak” to vowels and consonants. These authors hope the descriptions will resemble the sounds closely enough to be useful aids to recognition. Although sometimes helpful, this process is very subjective. What sounds “sweet” or “musical” to one person...


    There are three basic kinds of warbler vocalizations: Songs, Chip Calls, and Flight Calls. A few species also sing other, less-often-heard vocalizations including night songs; whisper, or “sotto voce,” songs; and flight or display songs.

    Songs The most “popular” warbler vocalizations are, of course, the songs. Warbler males sing their songs on their breeding grounds to attract mates and to define and defend their territory. They also often sing during spring migration. Studies have shown that many warbler species have two general types of songs: accented and unaccented. Much research is still ongoing about how often, when, and why birds...

  12. VISUAL FINDER GUIDES (pp. 100-115)
  13. WARBLER SONG FINDER CHARTS (pp. 116-129)
  14. CHIP CALL FINDER (pp. 130-133)
  15. FLIGHT CALL FINDER (pp. 134-137)
  16. Species Accounts (pp. 138-525)
  17. QUIZ AND REVIEW (pp. 526-533)

    Where & When Crane Creek State Park, Ohio, mid-May

    The Big Picture Peak migration in the East, so there are lots of choices. Largish size; twenty feet up in a mid-sized tree, feeding methodically, wags tail once. The underside view doesn’t seem to give us much, or does it? The bird is large and “boat-shaped,” it has a very short tail, bright orange legs, and what’s with the weird, fine, spotty streaking in the malar and upper flanks?

    Why It’s Tricky The angle seems difficult to work with. How can we ID this bird without seeing the back or face?...

  18. WARBLERS IN FLIGHT (pp. 534-539)

    The first time that one sees a warbler identified in flight, it seems like magic. How can anyone possibly identify a tiny flitting bird that darts away into the woods, or overhead to parts unknown? As with most things, the answer is “practice!” Daunting as it seems, learning to look more carefully at birds in flight can improve not only flight-ID skills, but also the ability to ID perched birds; and it creates a better understanding of the important combination of warbler identification points.

    One critical component in successfully identifying flying warblers is learning their flight calls. Even if a...


    Bird taxonomy is a complicated business, and over the years the classification of different species (and even families) of birds has shifted, and it will inevitably continue to shift. This chart, developed through DNA research by Dr. Irby Lovette, describes the most up-to-date thinking on the historical evolution of the warblers, and hence illuminates which birds are most (and least) closely related. The evolutionary time line starts at the top with Ovenbird, our “oldest” warbler, and branches into more recent species toward the bottom. Note that this chart includes only the warblers described in this book....

  20. MEASUREMENTS (pp. 542-543)
  21. SILHOUETTES (pp. 544-545)
  22. HABITAT AND BEHAVIOR (pp. 546-548)
  23. GLOSSARY (pp. 549-554)
  24. RESOURCES (pp. 555-556)
  25. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS (pp. 557-557)
  26. PHOTO CREDITS (pp. 558-558)
  27. INDEX (pp. 559-560)

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