wintertime visitor: a rare warbler

I’M CELEBRATING New Year’s in the company of a rare bird and the flowers of the first of the witch hazels, neither of which is supposed to be here right now.

That’s the kind of year it has been, and I suppose will be again in 2024.

‘Jelena’ (below) is always my first witch-hazel to bloom each year, but typically it starts a month or more from now, sometime in late January or even February. Odd, but no peril to the plant.—unlike my avian visitor.

Ever feel like your life got way off course? A male Wilson’s warbler (top of page) should be on the Gulf Coast or farther south, but he is wintering here (Hudson Valley of NY) the last couple of weeks, foraging under my feeders with all the more expected species, and drinking from the opening in the ice in the adjacent water garden.

This is quite an uncommon bird here even in milder months—they pass through briefly en route from their wintering areas to their Canadian breeding grounds—but winter?

Presumably during fall migration he got blown off course, and happened upon my backyard, finding it to be hospitable enough to take up temporary residence in. Wilson’s warblers are insectivores, usually, but he is eating sunflower hearts (shelled sunflowers) from the ground at the moment; make do with what you’ve got, I guess.

Last week it was 13F degrees one night and I feared I would not see him again; that it would do him in. But there he was hopping around and chowing down all morning. Apparently he is determined to make the best of having lost his way.

He sets a good example for all of us who are feeling a little befuddled by the goings-on outside in our backyards, and across the planet.

Categoriesbird sh-t
  1. Patricia Danaher says:

    Thank you Margaret. Your post is the first thing I read today. It put me in a wondrous frame of mind. I will skip reading the news & go out to my little garden instead. Yesterday I noticed Montauk daisies budding again here in Westchester County.
    I’ll wonder as I wander.

  2. Robert Roggeveen says:

    A Hamamelis vernalis in bloom here in West Hartford.

    Margaret Roach – thank you for your insights, energy, inspiration, and companionship as we adventure, in the garden!

  3. Molly says:

    What a lovely way to start the day with you and your surprise feathered guest!
    Thank you for a year of terrific columns!
    Happy New Year! Hoping it is wonderful in every way.

  4. Michele Ferreira says:

    Wow! How did you ever recognize the little Wilson’s warbler? I’m impressed. And since I love esrly bloomers, I’ll more fully check out witch hazels.

  5. Ginny B says:

    You can help that little warbler overwinter by putting fresh or dried meal worms under the feeder where he tends to forage. They are not normally seed eaters because they don’y have the type of beak needed to crack seed shells. He might not be able to get the nutrition he needs from seeds. I’m sure he’s thankful for the sunflower hearts, though. The water is very important, too. I’m glad he has access to that.

    1. margaret says:

      I thought about mealworms, and various birder friends suggested them, but at any given time there can be 20 or more birds around my feeders and adjacent water garden, and this little guy flits in and out periodically so I don’t know where/when/how I’d alert him. It has been odd watching a warbler chow down on seed!

  6. That was a lovely report, I send good vibes to your Warbler!
    Happy New Gardening Year. I am so grateful for all the work you are doing to make this World a better, happier place. I have been following you for so many years, it’s hard to remember all the things I have learned from you.
    Lots of Joy,

  7. Sharon says:


    Look for you early on Sunday mornings, thank you for reminding me of the close-to-home picture. Am often overwhelmed by the news. Got a bear report from a neighbor, a mother and 3 cubs on his porch. Not hibernating yet? or broken hibernation? Wrote Fish & Wildlife to get their thoughts.

  8. Susie LaBarre says:

    Thrive where you arrive!
    I have a picture my dad took over 50 years ago of me in my rubber boots, bandana in my hair to keep it out of my face, as I grip a yellow water can giving substance to a newly planted tree. The past 20+ years I have worked in the field of occupational therapy, mostly with children and their families. I am now returning to rubber boots and bandanas seeking all the horticulture knowledge I can in these last chapters of my life. I stumbled on your podcast and thus your wealth of knowledge and can relate to that sweet Wilson Warbler.
    Thank you Margret!
    Kindly, Frog (aka Susie – Froggy was my camp counselor name back in the early 90s)

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