Lessons from Residents and Migrants

I often find symbolism in nature. Bird watching offers an abundance of it, such as the devotion of cardinal pairs to each other and the way crows clean up the parking lot like clockwork near closing time. The latest symbolism I’ve found is in the fall warbler migration.

In recent years when August arrives I’ve learned to pay attention to the excited chips of flitting titmice, chickadees and wrens. The sounds make me pause from household chores to look out a window at the movement in the bushes right outside. The first time it happened I was one foot away, with a window in between, from a male redstart, black and orange tail fanned, foraging where a titmouse had been moments before in a sparsely branched Carolina rhododendron. What a view! No binoculars required. Another time the commotion of locals caused me to pause and look toward the garden at the perfect moment to see the gift of a black throated blue warbler pair. I concluded that the resident birds must be scolding and bothered by this intrusion and possible competition for food.

This year’s migration has changed my perspective. Savvy now at how high activity among resident birds can reveal migrants, again excited chips from open windows called me away from chores and outside with my binoculars. Chickadees were bugging among the shrubs at the woods’ edge, then among them and behind as they moved along, something different. To my delight I was treated to what, back with my books, I concluded were six black throated green warblers, foraging low in the bushes.

A few days later, August 17 according to my journal, I was making my bed at the right time to again hear and see a titmouse foraging in that same rhododendron out my bedroom window, one foot away, this time followed by a worm-eating warbler. August 22, same rhododendron, same titmouse? I don’t know, but there were two worm-eating warblers, foraging away, the titmouse with them briefly and then moving on, and a different warbler among them my non-expert skill couldn’t verify, but looked to be an immature pine warbler.

That day after witnessing this bird behavior I mused that, maybe rather than complaining that the migrants are consuming their food sources, maybe the residents are actually guiding the migrants to what will keep them alive and sustain them during their long, perilous journey. Is there a lesson here for us humans?

Cindy Carpenter

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