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The 4,000 Mile Pilgrimage of the Canada Warbler

March 25th, 2017 by Michael Dyet

Canada Warbler

Hmmm, has the Canada Warbler, which I will spot in a thicket in May, already embarked on its epic journey to the boreal forest?

Spring has arrived. For nature geeks like me, that means one thing, – the spring migration spectacle. I’ve been witnessing it for 30 years. But it has not lost its fascination for me.

The highlight of the migration is the waves of Warblers that pass through in May. I thought I would trace the migration path of one of my favourite warblers – the Canada Warbler – pictured at the top of this post. (Credit: Google images)

The Canada’s migration begins in its winter retreat in South America. Let’s assume our friendly fellow sets out from the Reserve Tapichalaca in the Andes Mountains in Ecuador. The first leg of his journey sees him winging over Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala. The Gulf of Mexico is a rather intimidating obstacle, so he chooses the longer overland route through Mexico.

Flying all night taxes his strength. He gladly drops into the El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico to rest and feed along with a flock of fellow warbler migrants.

By nightfall he is on the wing again. The flock he is travelling with opts for another rest stop at The Quinta Mazatlan World Birding Center in Texas. He is a bit wary of the feral cats in the area. But safety in numbers dictates that he stays with the flock and spends the night there.

Time is a precious commodity in the migration and the spring days are rapidly advancing. He pushes hard over several days to make it to the Pheasant Branch Conservancy in Wisconsin. A near miss with the mirror windows of an office building has his little heart fluttering.

By early May, he has reached the shores of Lake Erie. The all-night flight over the lake requires that he hang out here waiting for the right weather conditions. A cold front and a strong south wind persist for several days. The trees around him fill with other migrants as they stack up waiting for the weather to change.

Finally, the temperature rises and the wind shifts to a gentle tailwind – perfect conditions for the lake crossing. He joins a wave of Warblers and takes to the air over Erie. By dawn, he is exhausted and relieved to spot Point Pelee Provincial Park near Leamington, Ontario.

He lands near the tip of Pelee and works his way down the point to the swampy woodlands behind the nature centre. The urgency to reach breeding territory makes him restless. But he spends an extra day at Pelee to gather his strength for the final leg of his trip.

By the end of May, he is on breeding territory in the boreal forests of Quetico Provincial Park in northern Ontario. No time to celebrate. He has only a couple of months to claim a territory, find a mate, breed and raise his young before retracing his steps southward again

The epic pilgrimage of the Canada Warbler is a metaphor of its own for the wonder of avian migration and the amazing fortitude of the delicate creatures that answer its call. I’ll tip my Tilly Hat to the first Canada Warbler I see this year to salute the thousands of miles he has traveled to bring a smile to my face on a balmy spring day.

~ Michael Robert Dyet is the author of “Until the Deep Water Stills – An Internet-enhanced Novel” – double winner in the Reader Views Literary Awards 2009. Visit Michael’s website at or the novel online companion at

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2 responses so far ↓

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  • 2 Michael Dyet Mar 31, 2017 at 6:05 pm

    Thanks! Much appreciated.