SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas — Probing the spring buds of a native tepeguaje on South Padre Island for insects, this tiny Tennessee warbler has just flown some 500 miles across the Gulf of Mexico and its perilous journey is just beginning.
The diminutive warbler, less than five inches in length and weighing no more than 10 grams, approximately the weight of two nickels, moves to search a nearby bottlebrush for sustenance.
The warbler has been wintering in Central and South America and is stopping over on South Padre Island to rest and refuel before winging on to its breeding ground in the coniferous forests of Canada and Alaska.
Joining the intrepid traveler amidst the remnants of wooded lots on the island is a plethora of colorful songbirds, from bright red scarlet tanagers to vibrant indigo buntings.
Most of these Neotropical migrants, birds that nest in the United States and Canada and winter south in tropical regions of Mexico, Central and South America, fly directly across the Gulf of Mexico particularly during their spring migration as they rush to secure prime breeding grounds in their northern realms.
Launching themselves at dusk from the Yucatan peninsula, they fly some 20 hours nonstop thru the night and into the next day before practically falling out of the sky with exhaustion on the first available stretch of land.
It is a perilous journey at best, and if a late season norther hits, many will perish at sea unable to resist the powerful wind.
The few wooded lots remaining on South Padre are crucial to their survival as here the exhausted birds are able to rest, water and refuel before continuing on their migratory journey.