Georgia is home to ‘butter-butts’ in winter

Most of our warbler species, so melodious and colorful in summer, are ensconced now in their winter homes in Central and South America and the Caribbean. But one hardy species, the yellow-rumped warbler, seems to relish coming to Georgia for the winter.

It is, in fact, one of our most common birds in winter.

The yellow-rump arrives in Georgia from its summer nesting grounds up north around late October, about the time most of the other warblers have left the state for Latin America. In April, when waves of those warblers are returning to Georgia for the nesting season, the yellow-rump is heading back to its summer haunts.

So, this is the best time of year to see a yellow-rumped warbler in Georgia. Although its streaky brown-and-yellow plumage is rather drab in winter, in flight it displays a conspicuous yellow rump that readily identifies it. Birders lovingly call them “butter-butts.”

An unusual yellow-rumped warbler trait — its ability to switch readily to a berry diet in winter — allows it to spend the winter much farther north than most of its fellow warbler species. Warblers in general are almost exclusively insect-eaters, but the scarcity of insects during the cold months appears not to inconvenience the yellow-rump.

It is fond of poison ivy berries and will eat juniper, dogwood and Virginia creeper berries and other fall-ripening fruit. But it has an extremely voracious appetite for the berries of the wax myrtle, a shrubby tree that is common (often growing in dense thickets) in the Coastal Plain and Piedmont regions of Georgia. The yellow-rump is unique among warblers in that it can digest the waxes of wax myrtle fruit. Because of its love of wax myrtle berries, it has been called the “myrtle warbler.”

It also will come occasionally to bird feeders. To attract it, try putting out sunflower seed, raisins, suet and peanut butter.

A few other warbler species also are in Georgia during the winter, including the pine warbler, common yellowthroat and orange-crowned warbler, but none appears to be as conspicuous and widespread as the yellow-rump.

In the sky: From David Dundee, Tellus Science Center astronomer: The moon will be first-quarter Saturday night. All of the visible planets rise out of the east: Venus, about an hour before sunrise; Mars, about five hours before sunrise; Jupiter, before midnight; Saturn, about two hours before sunrise.