Birds of Barrington, Citizens for Conservation, News, Wendy Paulson

Wendy Paulson’s Birds of Barrington | Common Yellowthroat

Wendy Paulson’s Birds of Barrington | Common Yellowthroat

It’s interesting how many birds carry the epithet “common” – for example, common nighthawk, common merganser, common goldeneye, common grackle. It is unclear to me who decides that a species is common or uncommon, though no bird that I know of claims the official adjective “uncommon.”

A local bird that definitely fits the “common” category, as in commonly found, is the common yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas). But in other respects – appearance, habits, song – the bird certainly is not common, as in mundane or plain.

The yellowthroat is a spiffy little bird, especially the male which sports a brilliant yellow throat and breast and a Lone Ranger black mask lined above in white. The female is more muted. Her throat is yellow but not quite so bright and she does not have the dramatic face mask. Overall she has a yellow-olive appearance.

These days of summer the song of the common yellowthroat is a frequent tune in fields and marshes. “Wichety-wichety-wichety” it chants, loud and clear, striking the first syllable with special emphasis. There is almost not an hour of the day that I don’t hear those notes from my back door, and sometimes coming from several different individuals. The bird sings with gusto; its song animates the air with vivacity.

But while easy to hear, the common yellowthroat is not always so easy to find. It’s a skulker, emitting its tell-tale song as it lurks deep in tall grass. I find, however, that pishing (“pssh-pssh-pssh”) – the sound many birders make when trying to lure a bird into sight – usually arouses the yellowthroat’s curiosity and it emerges from concealment. In this respect it reminds me of many wren species which respond similarly to pishing. And in its movements, the yellowthroat resembles wrens, too, though it belongs to the warbler clan. It is a perky bird that flits from perch to perch, always alert, active, quick. Only occasionally do birdwatchers get to watch it actually stay put for a minute or two.

Because it winters in the southern United States – it is not a long-distance migrant like many warblers – the yellowthroat returns early each spring to the Barrington area and departs later than most other warbler species. There are few of our spring and summer birdwalks during which there isn’t an appearance by a common yellowthroat or, at the very least, the alert of its distinctive song. You can expect to hear and, hopefully, see common yellowthroats at almost any local forest preserve, Citizens for Conservation property, Baker’s Lake Savanna, Beese Park, or any grassy areas bordering wetlands.

The common yellowthroat is the Lone Ranger of the bird world, or the bird with a raccoon mask, or El Bandito, the little bandit. Whatever title one chooses to bestow on this diminutive summer resident, it’s always a pleasure to encounter it by sight or sound.

About the Author

Wendy Paulson has lived in Barrington Hills since 1975, and has led bird walks in the area for many years. She re-established the Nature Lady program in the Barrington 220 school district and St. Anne’s in the late 70s, under the auspices of The Garden Club and Little Garden Club of Barrington. Wendy developed the education program for Citizens for Conservation, initiated and edited its newsletter, and has been an active volunteer with CFC for over 30 years.

Wendy Paulson
Wendy Paulson

During interludes in New York City and Washington, DC, Wendy taught classes about birds in the public schools and is helping to develop a similar program in Chicago public schools with Openlands. She is chairman of The Bobolink Foundation, serves on the board or advisory committee of multiple conservation and bird-related organizations, both domestic and international, and is former chairman of IL and NY chapters of The Nature Conservancy.

Wendy and her husband Hank have two grown children and are avid hikers, cyclists, and kayakers.

CLICK HERE to explore all of the local bird profiles Wendy has authored in our Birds of Barrington series at

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