Flycatching MYWAs

On the warm, calm 10th of February I noticed a bit of activity in two Loblolly Pines just north of the Ornithopter. A group of Myrtle Warblers (AKA Yellow-rumped Warblers, Butter Butts, or MYWAs) were busy sallying forth from the tops of the trees. They were flycatching.

Two Butter Butts sally forth to capture flying insects.

It’s not unusual to see these warblers flycatching, after all, it’s how they make their living, eating insects. True, these warblers revert to eating fruits and seeds during winter, especially the wax myrtle fruit which is found throughout the Museum grounds, but when insects are available these little birds don’t hesitate to take advantage of their presence.

Myrtle Warbler about to consume a Wax Myrtle berry.

The question is, what were the flycatching Myrtles eating, what was it that they were catching in the tops of those pine trees?

The short answer is, I don’t know. I couldn’t see anything, even with binoculars, flying about the treetops. There must have been some sort of insect hatch, a fly of some kind which was too small to see from the ground. It was suggested to me by Richard Stickney of the Butterfly House here at the Museum that it may have been aphids, Giant Conifer Aphids (Cinara), that the birds were after.

This warbler is after some unseen (to me) flying insect.

Aphids are small (even the giant ones) and the Loblolly Pines are certainly conifers, so it could have been giant conifer aphids that I was NOT seeing flying around the treetops. But, I haven’t been able to find any information as to whether or not adults, winged adults, are present at this time of year, in mid February. Eggs may be present, and wingless adults or nymphs may be on the tree, but certainly, none of those would be flying out from the tree to be snatched up by the birds.

Calm, warm days are conducive to flycatching. Note the yellow rump on this bird.

The next day, the wind picked up and the birds were no longer flycatching from the pines. Any insects that ventured out from the tree would have been scattered by the wind.

Note: If any one out there has input into what the birds were catching on that beautiful blue-sky day in mid February, please feel free to send in your comments.

2 responses to Flycatching MYWAs

  1. Avatar
    Michele says:

    Greg,

    I have no idea what they were catching, but these photos are fantastic! Thanks for capturing this moment. Hope you get an answer!

    • Greg Dodge
      Greg Dodge says:

      Why, thanks Michele!
      I think the aphid idea is the best bet for what the warblers were hawking. I wish that I was tall enough to reach the tops of the pines to see exactly what was on the trees that day. I did an inspection of some of the surrounding pine branches down low but couldn’t find any insect activity.
      Thanks again.

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