Warbler Tips ID Charts

Warbler Tips ID Chart

by Daniel Edelstein, danieledelstein@att.net, 415-382-1827


Warbler Tips ID Chart

(for selected N. America wood-warbler species among the 56 species that typically are present annually above Mexico)

by Daniel Edelstein, www.warblerwatch.com, edelstein@earthlink.net, 415-382-1827


SCIENTIFIC NAME Common Name SpringArrival Time Fall Departure Time. Confused With? Breeding Habitat Status Comments
Setophaga petechia Yellow Early (among top 5) July onward (early disperse after nesting) Prothonotary Deciduous bottom lands/creek bottoms; wet and/or or moist areas; dense vegetation Decline in W. USA 46 subspecies is most of all 115 New World wood-warblers; many endemics; largest geographical breeding area of all 115 New World wood-warblers: northern S. America to Alaska.
Setophaga pennsylvanica Chestnut-sided More eastern USA; protracted  depature Golden-winged Deciduous; 2nd growth areas; absent from thick, dense, unbroken/unfragmented forest Local declines in eastern USA where climax/dense forest has returned Frequent B.H. Cowbird host; declines when mature forests return to an area; more rare during 1700s (when climax forests occurred) than now.
Setophaga magnolia Magnolia Often early Immature Prairie Conif. forest; esp. spruce Increases in New Engl. “Spruce Warbler” would be apt name; it often nests in spruces
Setophaga tigrina Cape May  


Early 1st year, female Yellow-Rumped Conif. forest; bogs Fluctuate; cyclical Arboreal; “fighter,” often defend. food sources (fruit/nect)
Setophaga caerulescens Black-Throated Blue Late Female with Orange-Crowned & Tennessee Deciduous & mixed woods On “Watch List” Nests in decid. or mixed woods; Highly dimorphic (male-female)
Setophaga virens Black-Throated Green Golden-cheeked; Town/Hermit hybrids conifif/mixed woods Varies yearly Winters in second growth/edges, thus able to survive deforestat.
Setophaga dominica Yellow-throated Very early Early Grace´s Low. forest; Sp. moss imp Expanding N and E? Creeping foraging behavior is tell-tale clue; often up high
Setophaga pinus Pine Early Late Fall Blackpoll,Bay-breasted Pines, other conifs. Stable in S. range (?) Large, long-tailed, heavy-billed; dist. trill; among hardiest warbs.
Setophaga kirtlandii Kirtland´s Late? Palm & Prairie (tail bobs) Jack pines in MI and ? On Fed. End. List Rare; cowbird management and habitat management important


Prairie Male Pine; fall Magnolia; Palm (tail bobs) Successional habitats On “Watch List” BBS data shows recent declines over most of range


Bay-breasted Long, extended Fall Bay-breasted’s with Fall Blackpolls Boreal forests < when < mat. forests Populations vary with yearly spruce budworm populations
Setophaga striata Blackpoll Often late More E. than sp´s Fall with 1st fall Bay-breasted (especially females) Wet conifers Often abundant Most highly-migratory wood warbler (2,150 miles autumn flight for east USA migrators)
Setophaga fusca Blackburnian Rel. early, E. 1st fall female with Cerulean & immature female Townsend’s Mixed forest; tall, mature conifers Vulnerable due to hab. changes Hemlocks often are nesting site; Usnea lichen often used in n. areas; spanish moss in s. USA
Setophaga coronata

(S. c. coronata = Myrtle; S. c. auduboni = Audubon’s)

Yellow-rumped Early Late For both Audubon’s & Myrtle, a look-alike is 1st fall female Cape May Conifers, mixed forests BBS shows no trends American Ornithology Society and Clements taxonomical nomenclature recognizes S. coronata species to include  S. c. coronata = Myrtle and S. c. auduboni = Audubon’s as subspecies. Two subspp. interbreed in along a narrow portion in n. British Columbia and along border between B. Columbia and Alberta.


Cerulean Early One of earliest Females and 1st fall males look like 1st fall female Blackburnian Old growth, mature deciduous forests Numbers down; On “Watch List” BBS suggests major drops in breeding bird populations.  Degradation of both winter. and summer habitats


SCIENTIFIC NAME Common Name SpringArrival Time Fall Departure Time. Confused With? Breeding Habitat Status Comments
Vermivora pinus Blue-winged


Early Usually early Hybrids/intergrades with Golden-winged (Brewster’s and Lawrence’s intergrades), in addition to Yellow, Prothonotary, Orange-Crowned (subspecies lutescens) Wide variety successional: old pastures, woodland clearings, powerline openings & slashings N, NE expansion May mate w/ Golden-winged warbler; resulting shared field marks create Brewster’s or Lawrence’s” warbler


Golden-winged Typical Gulf Coast arrival is early April Leaves  after Blue-winged Hybrids/intergrades with Golden-winged (Brewster’s and Lawrence’s intergrades), and, if viewed from below, the Black-throated Gray Warbler. Successional habitats On Watch List BBS data indicates decline over most of its nesting range, northeastern and southern USA where long-term competition with Blue-winged Warbler results in this species displacing some populations of Golden-winged.
Oreothlypisperegrine Tennessee Often early Orange-


Boreal forests Often varies  yearly Some females arrive on n. breeding grounds pregnant due to mating during migration
Oreothlypisruficapilla Nashville Early


Often early Variety Stable? Two distinct subspecies; one in both E & W USA


No. Parula Very early Pro-


Nashville Varies Stable? Breeds high in trees, often using lichens or Spanish moss as nesting material


Black-and-white Early Very early Blackpoll Mature & 2nd Growth Regional declines; cowbird par Creeping foraging is often diagnostic; glean trunks/branches for larvae/insects


American Redstart Often late Pro-longed Distinct’vappr’nce Wet decid, mixed for. Fewer: pts of range Tame/curious; squeaks/”pishes” attract this warbler that acts like may act like flycatcher


Prothonotary Early Very early exit Yellow, Blue-winged Bottom-land forests Numbers down; On “Watch List” Prefers dark, damp lowland woods, swamps; found in wet, shady areas; snags/stumps essential for nesting cavities; only E. USA cavity-nesting wood-warbler


Worm-eating Early Swain-


Decid. or mixed woods Numbers down; On “Watch List” On migration, may feed higher in treetops than in breeding areas where it forages low, often in clusters of dead leaves; hops, doesn’t walk; usually uses ground for nest


Swainson’s Worm-eating Wet woods; cane sp. Numbers down; On “Watch List” Rare;wooded swamplands and canebrakes of SE lowlands and rhododendron thickets; Shy and reclusive; excellent place to see:

Dismal Swamp in SE Virgina



Ovenbird Pro-


N. & LA Waterthr. Mature forests Hurt by forest fragmentation Thrush-like warbler’s “teacher-teacher” song heard in deciduous/mixed forest of boreal E. No. Am; common name comes from domed ground nest (Dutch oven)




Among earliest Among earl., if not 1st No. Waterth. Fast flow./ rocky streams No strong pop. trends More SE breeding range than No. Water.; early spring arrival/fall departure; note white throat as a good field mark to distinguish from buffy-throated No. Water.


SCIENTIFIC NAME Common Name SpringArrival Time Fall Departure Time. Confused With? Breeding Habitat Status Comments


Kentucky Common Yellowthroat Deep decid. woods & fewer in mixed woods Sensitive to fragment; on “Watch List” Spends most of the time on or near ground; indicator of forest “health” because it uses lg. decid. forests, mostly in South/Mid-Atlantic


Connecticut Very late Among latest to leave Mourning Varies More numerous in 19th C. May be latest arriving spring warbler in E.; secretive; walking gait is like ovenbird’s


Mourning Among latest arrivals Often begins early Mac-


Boreal habs.; Dense 2nd growth Stable? Closely related and looks like Macgillivary’s; confused with Conn. & F. Common Yellowthroats






Kentucky in N. NA & Y’llthr’t spp. Damp, weedy marshy, brush hab’t’s Stable; but declines in S. & W. Fifteen subspecies recognized by some researchers; wide geographic variation (approaches Yell. W’s)


Hooded Often begins early Lawrence’s

(hybrid of Bl wi/gold wi)

Up & b’tl’nd woodlands Stable Distinctive black & yellow hood; largest eye among 32 warblers as “tool” to live in shady habitats


Wilson’s Female Hooded Dense, wet ground cover Local declines & increases More common in W. than E.; 3 subspecies; Extremely active behavior; hovers/sallies like flycat’s


Canada Among latest arrivals Early Kentucky (in face); F. is like Nashville Cool, moist woods, swamps Declines in portion of range; cowbird para. com Obvious eye-ring and “necklace” are key field marks; forages like flycatchers with “sally”; inquisitive and active; often found with Wilson’s during migration


Northern Waterthrush Early Louisiana Waterth. Woods w/ slow H20 Stable?

S. pops lower?

Distinguished from Louis. Waterth. by buffy/gray throat, bill size, supercilium shape


Palm early in E/MidW More E. than spri. Prairie,


Bogs, wood margins Stable, except FL Continuous tail-pumping; often lives in open, unwooded habitats