Yellow WarblerSetophaga petechia

adult male, Interior West, breeding
Greg Lasley/VIREO
adult female, Eastern
Garth McElroy/VIREO
adult male, Pacific coastal, breeding
Glenn Bartley/VIREO
adult male, Eastern, breeding
Glenn Bartley/VIREO
adult male, Southwestern, breeding
Greg Lasley/VIREO
adult male, Eastern, breeding
Garth McElroy/VIREO
adult male, Texas, breeding
Rolf Nussbaumer/VIREO
adult male, Eastern, breeding
Johann Schumacher/VIREO



The bright, sweet song of the Yellow Warbler is a familiar sound in streamside willows and woodland edges. This is one of our most widely distributed warblers, nesting from the Arctic Circle to Mexico, with closely related forms along tropical coastlines. Their open, cuplike nests are easy to find, and cowbirds often lay eggs in them. Yellow Warblers in some areas thwart these parasites by building a new floor over the cowbird eggs and laying a new clutch of their own. In one case, persistent cowbirds returned five times to lay more eggs in one nest, and an even more persistent warbler built six layers of nest floors to cover up the cowbird eggs.


Bushes, swamp edges, streams, gardens. Breeds in a variety of habitats in east, including woods and thickets along edges of streams, lakes, swamps, and marshes, favoring willows, alders, and other moisture-loving plants. Also in dryer second-growth woods, orchards, roadside thickets. In west, restricted to streamside thickets. In winter in the tropics, favors semi-open country, woodland edges, towns.

Feeding Diet

Mostly insects. Up to two-thirds of diet may be caterpillars of various kinds. Also feeds on mayflies, moths, mosquitoes, beetles, damselflies, treehoppers, and other insects, plus spiders; also eats a few berries.

Feeding Behavior

Forages from low levels up to treetops. Takes insects from twigs and foliage, hovers briefly to take items from underside of leaves, and flies out after flying insects. Males tend to forage higher and in more open foliage than females. Forages alone in winter in the tropics, defending a winter feeding territory.


Males defend nesting territories by singing, sometimes performing fluttering flight displays. Male courts female by actively pursuing her for 1-4 days. Nest: Placed in upright fork of branches in shrubs, small trees, and briars from 2-60' above ground. Nest (built by female) is compact open cup of weed stalks, shredded bark, grass, lined with plant down or fur. Males accompany females on trips to the nest and will occasionally help build. Females will steal nest material from other nests. Eggs: 4-5, sometimes 3-6. Greenish-white, with variety of specks or spots of brown, olive, and gray. Incubated solely by female, 11-12 days. Male feeds female on nest. Very frequently parasitized by cowbirds. May defend against parasitism by rebuilding new nest on top of cowbird eggs, or by deserting nest. Young: Fed by both parents (female does more). Young leave the nest 9-12 days after hatching.


4-5, sometimes 3-6. Greenish-white, with variety of specks or spots of brown, olive, and gray. Incubated solely by female, 11-12 days. Male feeds female on nest. Very frequently parasitized by cowbirds. May defend against parasitism by rebuilding new nest on top of cowbird eggs, or by deserting nest. Young: Fed by both parents (female does more). Young leave the nest 9-12 days after hatching.


Fed by both parents (female does more). Young leave the nest 9-12 days after hatching.


Because it favors second growth and edges, not as vulnerable to loss of habitat as some warblers. Current populations probably stable.


Migrates mostly at night. Fall migration is very early, with many moving south during August.


songs #4
songs #1
fledgling calls
songs #5
dawn song (with song type switches)
songs #3
songs #2
alarm chips
alarm chips

Similar Species

adult male, Interior

Common Yellowthroat

Abundant and well-known, the Common Yellowthroat has succeeded by being a nonconformist. As the only one of our warblers that will nest in open marshes, it is found in practically every reed-bed and patch of cattails from coast to coast. Although it sometimes hides in the marsh, its low rough callnote will reveal its presence. The male often perches atop a tall stalk to rap out his distinctive song, wichity-wichity-wichity.

adult male

Prothonotary Warbler

In southeastern swamps in summer, this bright golden warbler sings from high in the trees. It is unique among eastern warblers in its habit of nesting in holes in trees, rather than in the open; it will sometimes nest in birdhouses placed close to the water. The name "Prothonotary" originally referred to a group of official scribes in the Catholic Church who wore bright yellow hoods, as this bird appears to do.

adult male

American Redstart

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adult male, Pacific

Orange-crowned Warbler

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adult male, breeding

Tennessee Warbler

This bird is found in Tennessee only briefly, during spring and fall migration; but there is no point in giving it a more descriptive name, because the bird itself is nondescript. The male makes up for his plain appearance with a strident staccato song, surprisingly loud for the size of the bird. Nesting in northern forests, the Tennessee Warbler goes through population cycles: it often becomes very numerous during population explosions of the spruce budworm, a favored food.

adult male (breeding)

Blue-winged Warbler

The simple buzzy song of the Blue-winged Warbler is often heard in brushy overgrown fields and thickets in the East during the summer. Although the bird is not especially shy, it can be a challenge to observe as it forages actively in the dense brush. In recent decades this species has been expanding its range northward, encroaching on the territory of its close relative, the Golden-winged Warbler. The two species often interbreed.

adult male, Pacific

Wilson's Warbler

A small and spritely warbler that moves actively in bushes and trees, often flipping its longish tail about as it hops from branch to branch. Typically stays low in semi-open areas, avoiding the interior of dense forest. Although it nests from coast to coast across Canada, Wilson's Warbler is far more common farther west. In the East it is seen in small numbers, but in the Rockies and westward it is often the most abundant migrant in late spring.

adult male, Texas

Hooded Oriole

In the hot lowlands of the Southwest, this slim oriole is often common in the trees along streams and in suburbs. It is especially likely to be seen around palms, frequently attaching its hanging nest to the underside of a palm frond. In yards and gardens it often visits hummingbird feeders to drink the sugar-water. The jumbled, musical song of the male sometimes includes imitations of other birds.

adult male

Orchard Oriole

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adult male, breeding

American Goldfinch

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