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PHOTO PROVIDED A vibrant Wilson’s warbler rests on a branch.

Yes, those are the places, but I would like to talk about the birds here. Tropical birds, that is, birds that spend most of their lives in southern Mexico, but migrate north thousands of miles each spring to participate in the forest insect explosion for food and feed their young in our own neighborhoods, fields and forests.

We call these birds “Neotropical migrants” because they live primarily in the Neotropics (i.e. New World tropics), but they seasonally migrate to and from temperate North America to breed. I will never forget this term because of the way our congressman once recalled it when asked what issues/problems he would like our research lab near Wellsboro to look into.

“Good,” he said, “there are these neotropical birds in the Allegheny National Forest that are causing some kind of problem,” as if they were invasive species that had to be controlled! He didn’t understand how important they are to protect this forest!

These Neotropical migrants who arrive in our forests, parks and backyards in April and May each year are mostly songbirds – birds with a complex vocal apparatus that allows them to produce a rich repertoire of musical sounds. Their songs enrich our lives, but only part of the year, so we must enjoy them in the spring and summer when they are around.

PHOTO PROVIDED Chestnut-sided warblers, as their name suggests, have a band of brown color on each side of their body.

In August, the woods become nearly silent again, as many of these same vocal species focus on feeding their young and become enigmatic to predators.

Although Neotropical songbirds include many bird families such as sparrows, sparrows and grosbeaks, finches, thrushes, swallows and vireos, wood warblers (family Parulidae).

There are about 30 species of wood warbler that breed or migrate through Pennsylvania seasonally. These specialized avian insectivores play a vital role in controlling insect populations in our forests by finding and catching insects. They do this in different ways: there are gleaners, sallyers and sounders, for example. Distinct levels in the forest are also occupied by specialized species: canopy dwellers, mid-level foragers, and ground-level hunters.

Although many of these songbirds can be seen and heard in our backyards this summer, let’s do our best to see them return to our forests in the years to come. Some ways to do this include supporting conservation initiatives that reduce or prevent further fragmentation of large tracts of forest (many of these birds are forest interior birds that breed poorly near edges and require extensive woodland uninterrupted). Preventing window strikes will also save woodland birds (local Audubon societies have placed methods for doing this on their websites; see windows). And the switch to shade-grown, bird-friendly coffee, now found in many stores, will discourage canopy loss in tropical America.

Wood Thrushes have been declining at the rate of 2% per year in our forests since the 1960s, a loss of half their total population in half a century! This Robin Woods relative’s song is so beautiful and melodic that I make sure to be back in Penn’s Woods on May Day to hear it!

PHOTO PROVIDED A Hooded Warbler sits amidst dense branches.

You can also enjoy these forest songbirds by going into the nearby state forest or game grounds you (collectively) own from May to July, park the car, walk a trail and just listen (early or late in the day , it’s better). Finding them with binoculars will add to the experience. Some of the birds easily found this way are shown in the photos here, and I took these photos doing just that. Rifle hunting is certainly an acceptable sport in Penn’s Woods, but camera hunting is another way to put your outdoor skills to the test.

So when you find one or more of these forest gems on your ear or eye this Spring/Summer, these insectivorous Neotropical Migrants, think of the rainforests they live in during our winters and the energy they bring back to our forests from the tropics, come spring. And remember, these birds know no political boundaries like we do. They just want to live in intact forests.

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Bob is a retired ecologist from the USGS facility near Wellsboro. He remains active in the local birding community and has traveled extensively throughout the American tropics.

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PHOTO PROVIDED Wood thrushes have been in decline as a population for over fifty years.

BIRD LORE is produced by the Lycoming Audubon Society (serving Lycoming and Clinton counties), Seven Mountains Audubon (serving Union, Snyder, Northumberland, and Columbia counties), and Tiadaghton Audubon Society (serving Tioga and Potter counties). Information about these chapters of the National Audubon Society is available at and and

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