COLUMN: Preparing for Iowa's warbler migration

Michele Olson
Jones County Naturalist

     Are you ready to discover Iowa’s warblers? Each spring, warblers migrate north through Iowa on their annual migration across North America. These magnificent and strikingly beautifully colored birds often go unnoticed. Now is the time to prepare to appreciate and catch a glimpse of the elusive warblers as they return to their ancestral breeding grounds.

     Many warblers spend the winter in Central and South America, returning to different areas across North America to breed. Warblers are primarily insect eaters, but some will eat nectar, select seeds, and berries. You may have unknowingly observed them hurriedly bouncing among the treetops or in bushes as they glean spiders and tiny insects from around the flowers and new leaves of our trees and shrubs. They seem to constantly be on the move on their quest to find food and refuel on their perilous journey north.

     Many warblers are smaller than sparrows and have short, thin, pointed beaks. They travel in migrating flocks sometimes mixed with other species – referred to as “waves.” These flocks are hard to miss when they arrive, as it seems the trees are almost alive with the movement of birds on the wing. In addition to their constant motion warblers sing a plethora of varied high-pitched songs. A valuable website to learn how to identify each species by sight and sound can be found at It is quite easy to enjoy the warbler migration – simply grab your binoculars, favorite bird field guide, and a good comfortable reclining lawn chair and recline as you watch the treetops in your backyard. If you have a camera with a zoom lens you can take photos of your visitors to look at while you try to ID them. They are notoriously bad at staying still or posing and will not wait for you to get a good long look.

     Some of the more recognizable warblers, as their names imply, that will soon be passing through include the yellow warbler, common yellowthroat, the black-and-white warbler, and the yellow-rumped warbler.

     A few great state and county park locations to observe migrating or returning resident warblers are the Indian Bluffs – Pictured Rocks Bird Conservation Area including Pictured Rocks Park, Whitewater and Lost Canyon, The Grant Wood Trail, Muskrat Slough, the Hale Wildlife Area, Mona Maq Dam, Central Park, and Wapsipinicon Park.

     Want to learn more?  Join our upcoming Building Better Birders Workshop – “Discovering Warblers” session on Friday, May 7, at Central Park.  A warbler hike will take place from 4 to 6 p.m. along the trails of Central Park and “An Introduction to Warblers” PowerPoint presentation will be given in the Central Park Nature Center at 6:30 PM. You can join us for both activities or choose only one or the other. Indoor space is limited due to COVID-19 precautions. Pre-registration is required by calling 319-481-7987 or emailing

     This workshop is free of charge. Bring your own binoculars and bird book or borrow one from Jones County Conservation. Birder, Kelly McKay (BioEco Research and Monitoring Center) with assistance from Mark Roberts (Clinton County Conservation), and Brian Ritter (Nahant Marsh Education Center) will be leading the workshop.

     Funding for the Building Better Birders Workshop series is provided by the Resource Enhancement and Protection – Conservation Education Program (REAP-CEP).  



Subscriber Login