Only a birder would know the difficulty in getting this shot of a Hooded Warbler. Brightly colored with a surprisingly loud song you’d think seeing them would be a snap. Not so! They are notorious for hanging deep in cover. Trying to coax them out for a partial view, let alone a decent photograph, is almost impossible. Birds in this “skulking genre” are one reason most bird photographers drink heavily. In fact, I had chased this species for years trying to get a decent shot to no avail. This male was surprisingly different. Hearing him in the bushes, I set my tripod and camera in a strategic location, pished (ask a birder what that is) a couple of times and he jumped right up on a twig almost too close to focus.
If you want to hear and possibly see this bird, look for very wet, mature deciduous forests with dense thickets. My key here in Southern Maryland is wild viburnum. If I can find this plant with lots of water and big oak trees, I feel confident of at least hearing this bird. They are, however, one of our song birds in greatest decline. The most likely cause is habitat destruction of their wintering grounds in the tropics; Mexico down to Costa Rica. Another reason is Brown-headed Cowbirds parasitic nesting. By that I mean these cowbirds lay their eggs in other bird’s nest. When the cowbird chick hatches it forces the host-species chick out of the nest condemning it to die. The parent host-species seldom realize they’ve been duped and raise the over-sized chick as their own. Brown-headed Cowbirds are native to the Great Plains but have migrated East due to the clearing of the forests. Hooded Warblers and other native species have not had time to evolve the defenses necessary to protect themselves as Western birds have.
The difficulty in obtaining this shot, the beauty of the bird and the sheer luck at finding this cooperative male combine to make this one of my all-time favorite photographs.
Other photographs of Hooded Warblers: