Tennessee warbler

Cliff’s Harbingers of Spring

American robins are often called “harbingers of spring” as they start their annual mating rituals in our yards, near our schools, grocery stores and offices.  They certainly like the open habitats we have created for our busy lives. As they sing in the morning and fly with nesting materials, for many people they are a welcome sign warm weather is coming.

But for me, every spring I get goosebumps when I hear the song of a drab little bird. The Tennessee warbler is gray-capped and unassuming in its dull green plumage. But this little bird is a marvel, flying thousands of miles on its way to its breeding grounds.

Tennessee warblers winter in northern South America and nest in open brushy areas around bogs and spruce forests in Canada. On the way, they stop in large numbers in Indiana.

And when they pass through, they sing – a lot. Once you learn the song, you hear them everywhere for a few days. When you hear them you know any bird could be in the woods near you. These notes are a clear sign that spring migration is ON. There might be a mourning warbler skulking in a brush pile or a blue-headed vireo high in the canopy. If you love nature, this is an exciting time!

Here’s what a Tennessee warbler sounds like:

Even if you don’t care to get a sore neck looking up in trees for little flashes of color flitting around – birding is definitely not for everyone – learning the song of the Tennessee warbler is worthwhile. Hearing it lets you know that there is more life around you than any other time of the year. This peak of activity lasts about 10 days.

We only get so many Springs in our lifetime. I try to enjoy every single one. When Tennessee warblers are passing through, it’s a good time to drop what you’re doing and go bathe in nature.

Cliff Chapman

Executive Director

As CILTI’s Executive Director, Cliff keeps CILTI’s focus on good science and stewardship. He’s mindful that the natural places you love took thousands of years to evolve and could be destroyed in a single day, and that knowledge drives his dedication to their protection.