Black-throated Green Warbler 1775x ab BINNS 1D2A1649 copy

IN THE BACKYARD : Philadelphia late-September

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Oct 2, 2020 | by Adrian Binns

The final two weeks of September have been quite birdy in my Philadelphia-based backyard. Cardinals command ample attention, as a pair of them have been feeding their incessantly-begging offspring all month. One day I witnessed an extraordinary interaction, of notable interest to ornithologists or researchers. It went like this: A male Northern Cardinal was on the ground with a begging immature. The nearby sunflower hopper was empty, and the peanut feeder was out of the cardinal’s reach. A Downy Woodpecker flew to the peanut feeder, picked out a peanut, and flew with it’s prize to a nearby snag. The woodpecker was intending to wedge it in a crack and break it up, which I’d seen them do many times. The moment the Downy landed on the snag, the keen-eyed cardinal flew up to a higher point, then proceeded to aggressively approach the woodpecker face-on. The cardinal harassed it several times, finally forcing the Downy Woodpecker to drop the peanut. The Cardinal immediately flew down to pick it up off the ground, and feed its begging young. Kleptoparasitism amongst passerines is most unusual and rarely recorded. I was fascinated to see it play out between my backyard breeders!

Northern Cardinal

Wintering birds made their first-of-season appearances, including a female Purple Finch on September 16, White-throated Sparrow on the 21st, and a Winter Wren, foraging low through perennials and amongst logs early on the morning of the 24th. None of these birds stayed more than a day.

Our last sighting of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird was September 21, though we’ll keep the nectar feeder filled through October, hoping for a vagrant. By the 24th, it seems the last of our yard House Wrens had moved south, though we are still seeing them in local green spaces.

Magnolia Warbler

In the third week of September, 5 days of north winds helped push migrants on their southbound migratory journeys. A number of them spent several days in the yard. I found up to 10 warblers on several days, with a cumulative list of 14 species over the last two weeks.

Blackpoll Warbler, female

Most were females, or immature female-types: Cape May, Blackpoll, Chestnut-sided, Magnolia, Black-and-white, Black-throated Green, Black-throated Blue, Canada, and Blackburnian Warblers, Northern Parula, Common Yellowthroat, and American Redstart.

Tennessee Warbler

I looked closely at the Tennessee Warbler moving through the hedgerow – it can look similar to an Orange-crowned but has a white (not yellow) undertail.


An Ovenbird has been strutting around the feeder area for many days.

Brown Thrasher

Other migrants stopping in my yard included Red-eyed Vireo, Gray-cheeked and Wood Thrushes, Brown Thrasher, Scarlet Tanager, Eastern Phoebe, and Eastern Wood-Pewee. Eastern Screech Owl called several mornings at first light, just outside the bedroom window.

Black-throated Blue Warbler, female – one was around for 5 days

I look forward to seeing what October will bring to my backyard!

updated Sept 16-30, 2020

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