Milwaukee Board Certified Chiropractic Orthopedist and Neck Pain Doctor writes:
It will be a particularly great time for spotting warblers. Warblers are tiny birds that fly from as far away as South America to northern Canada and back each year. Spring is the best time of year to see them since the trees are still bare and the birds are in their spring breeding colors, making identification easier than when they make their return trip South in the fall.
After a long night flight, they rest and feed during the day. On a good day you may be able to identify two or three dozen different species of warblers in your own neighborhood park. With names like Yellow Warbler, Orange-Crowned Warbler, Hooded, Palm, Prairie, Black-throated Green, Bay-breasted, Chestnut-sided, Golden-winged, Yellow-throated, Yellow-rumped, Black-throated Blue, and Black-and-White Warbler it's no wonder so many people love the challenge of spotting them.
To magnify the challenge these tiny nervous birds never stop moving as they flit from branch to branch searching for food. And they are nearly always way up in the tree-tops. Most people never even see them.
It is common among birders to spend hours at a time during this time of year with head tipped back looking up into the tree-tops. If you have ever done it for a few hours you have likely experienced the dreaded Warbler's Neck.
Warbler's Neck feels like someone set a brick on your upper back and neck. It is caused by a combination of holding binoculars up to your eyes, tipping your head backward and contracting the muscles in your upper shoulders.
This can get pretty miserable and for some people may be dangerous. The constant presure on the joints, muscles and nerves can aggravate an underlying neck problem and may progress into headache, arm pain, arthritis or chronic neck pain.
But it doesn't have to. You may be able to stop it in its tracks with a little preparation before you go out birding.
Prior to the birding season, practice by strengthening your neck muscles. Do this by pretending someone is pushing directly backward on your nose moving your head straight backward. No tipping, just directly backward. Hold that for ten seconds at a time and repeat it ten times.
A couple hours before your go out drink an extra quart of water, maybe mix a bit of sea salt in the water for some extra minerals, or some magnesium powder to help relax your muscles.
When in the field you may benefit from a binocular harness. This can prevent the binocular strap from hanging on your neck and gives you more support from your shoulders.
While looking into the tree-tops, don't raise your shoulders up toward your ears when watching. Don't use only your neck while looking upward. Start from your knees in a bit of flexion, arch your back backward a bit. Instead of raising your chin to look upward, just tip your entire neck backward so there is no specific stress point.
Then after you have called it a day and tallied up your list you will become more aware of the brick that is laying on your shoulders. That's Warbler's Neck.
Once it has hit you, go lie down on your back. Roll a bath towel into a cylinder and place it under your neck to support the normal lordotic curve. Let your head fall gently down over to the floor to relax the muscles.
If you are careful you can use a hot pack set on LOW and laid over the towel. Do not fall asleep on this hot pack, set a timer for twenty minutes. Too long and too hot and you will burn your skin (maybe badly, so keep it on low and don't fall asleep). After that you may replace the hot pack with ice to help with the pain.
If the pain persists more than a day or two, or if you have headache, arm pain or any unusual symptom then schedule an appointment for a spinal evaluation. There may be an underlying problem that you need to address.
If you haven't ever seen a warbler, now it the perfect time. Besides being outside making yourself some Vitamin D, birding is an inexpensive hobby, it is very relaxing. You don't have to go far and we have some of the best opportunities to see lots of migrants right here in our neighborhood.
And if you develop Warbler's Neck, well, now at least you know how to deal with it.
Here's some photos of warblers you might see. (Thanks to Mike McDowell of Middleton WI.)
And here's some local birding hotspots