Bird Identification – Maryland Yellow-throat – Black-masked Ground Warbler

This gay little warbler looks as if he were dressed for a masquerade ball with a gray-edged black mask over his face and the sides of his throat, a brownish green coat and a bright yellow vest. He is smaller than a sparrow. How sharply the inquisitive fellow peers at you through his mask whenever you pass the damp thicket, bordering the marshy land, where he likes best to live! And how quickly he hops from twig to twig and flies from one clump of bushes to another clump, in restless, warbler fashion, as he leads you a dance in pursuit! Not for a second does he stop watching you.

If you come too close, a sharp pit-pit or chock is snapped out by the excited bird, whose familiar, oft-repeated, sprightly, waltzing triplet has been too freely translated, he thinks, into, Fol-low-me, fol-low-me, fol-low-me. Pursuit is the last thing he really desires, and of course he issues no such invitation. What he actually says almost always sounds to me like Witchee-tee, witch-ee-tee, witch-ee-tee. You will surely hear him if you listen in his marshy retreats. He sings almost all summer. Except when nesting he comes into the garden, picks minute insects out of the blossoming shrubbery, hops about on the ground, visits the raspberry tangle, and hides among the bushes along the roadside. Only the yellow warbler, of all his numerous tribe, is disposed to be more neighbourly. In spite of his local name, he is to be found in winter from Georgia to Labrador and Manitoba westward to the Plains. You see he is something of a traveller.

The little bird who bewitches him, and to whom he sings the witch’s song, wears no black mask, so it is not easy to name her if her mate is not about. Her plumage is duller than his and the sides of her plump little body, which are yellowish brown, shade into grayish white underneath. Sometimes you may catch her carrying weeds, strips of bark, broad grasses, tendrils, reeds, and leaves for the outside of her deep cradle, and finer grasses for its lining, to a spot on the ground where plants and low bushes help conceal it. She does not build so beautiful a nest as the yellow warbler, but like her she, too, poor thing, sometimes suffers from the sneaking visits of the cowbird. Unhappily, she is not so clever as her cousin, for she meekly consents to hatch out the cowbird’s egg and let the big, greedy interloper crowd and worry and starve her own brood. Why does the cowardly cowbird always choose a victim smaller than herself?