Common Yellowthroat

Geothlypis trichas

(c) Scott Elowitz
  • PARULIDAE
  • Wood Warblers
  • Passeriformes
  • Chipe de cara negra, Mascarita común, Reinita gargan tiamarilla, Caretica, Cigüita enmascarada, Reinita pica tierra
  • Paruline masqué
Introduction
Classified with at least 13 subspecies, the Common Yellowthroat varies in plumage, song, and behavior. This common migrant from the tropics may be North America's most widespread warbler. The bird's familiar, emphatic "witch-ity witch-ity" song makes it easy to find, and the male's black mask, between his yellow throat and white forehead, make him easy to identify. A curious and lively songbird, the Common Yellowthroat responds readily to pishing or squeaking.
(c) Glen Tepke
Appearance Description
Common Yellowthroats are medium-sized, chunky warblers with rounded wings, blackish bills, and pink legs. Their posture, plump shape, and cocked tails can make them look like wrens. On average, the Common Yellowthroat weighs .35 ounces, grows to 5 inches long, and has a 6.75 inch wingspan.
 
Across its wide range, the Common Yellowthroat presents a great deal of variation in its appearance. Generally, males sport a thick, black mask over a bright yellow throat and chest. White or gray borders the top of the mask and separates it from the olive upper-parts (crown to tip of tail). The belly is usually whitish and blends into the yellow under-tail. Female plumages are also quite variable. Generally, female Common Yellowthroats are olive above, with a yellow throat over an olive breast band, and whitish belly. Females have no mask.
Range Map
Courtesy Kenn Kaufman
Range Distribution
With the exception of dry, southwestern desert areas, the Common Yellowthroat breeds across the United States and most of Canada. This warbler winters from the Carolinas south through southern Texas and Central America to Colombia and throughout much of the Caribbean. In most of western California, Common Yellowthroats can be found year round. Populations are densest in extensive wet, shrubby habitats.
 
A legend for the range map to the right can be found here.
Habitat
Common Yellowthroats breed and winter in a wide variety of damp habitats with low, dense vegetation. Bogs, swamps, low-lying weedy areas, and the damp, brushy edges of woods attract them. Throughout the year, Common Yellowthroats are almost always near the ground, with the notable exception of males during their skylarking display flight. Their genus name, Geothlypis, means "ground bird."
Feeding
Hopping and climbing through thickets and weeds, the Common Yellowthroat searches the ground and plants for spiders, insects, and caterpillars. Mostly, this warbler picks food from surfaces, but will also chase prey on the wing.
 
Reproduction
Common Yellowthroats produce one to two broods per year. Males arrive on territory about a week before females and begin defending it with songs, calls, and chases. Pairs bond for the season after a brief courtship, and the female builds a nest on the ground or higher in dense vegetation, where water may swamp the eggs.
 
The nest is a layered cup of grasses, becoming finer at the center. The female lays 3 to 6 whitish eggs, splotched with brown and gray, and incubates them for about 12 days. Males sometimes feed incubating females at the nest. Both parents feed the helpless, naked young until they fledge in about 12 days. Fledglings receive care for up to 35 days.
 
Cowbirds often lay their eggs in the nests of Common Yellowthroats; rates of parasitism reached 47% in one Michigan study. The warbler has a variety of defenses, including the removal of cowbird eggs, abandonment of the nest, and construction of a new nest over the cowbird's eggs.
Migration
Most Common Yellowthroats migrate at night over short and long distances, departing their wintering grounds through April and into May. Many cross the Gulf of Mexico, rather than fly along the coast. Most Common Yellowthroats depart the breeding grounds at about the same time for a protracted migration southward.
  • 32,000,000
  • 32,000,000
  • no current conservation concerns
Population Status Trends
Although Common Yellowthroat populations are generally stable, regional declines are cause for concern. Two subspecies of the Common Yellowthroat have experienced dramatic losses: the nonmigratory Brownsville Common Yellowthroat (G. t. insperata), and the Salt Marsh Common Yellowthroat (G. t. sinuosa) which experienced an 80% decline from the early 20th Century to 1976.
Conservation Issues
Since the Common Yellowthroat is still widespread and common, conservation efforts should focus on population maintenance and the effects of wetland destruction on regional populations. The federal Conservation Reserve Program benefits a significant percentage of Common Yellowthroats by setting aside open, often shrubby areas, which are too wet for farming.
 
Neither government nor private agencies have conservation plans for two distinct subspecies, the Salt Marsh Yellowthroat and the Brownsville Yellowthroat, which have suffered from extensive habitat destruction. As non-migratory, permanent residents, their future depends on the preservation of breeding grounds and the rehabilitation of areas disturbed by over-grazing and the draining of wetlands. The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Division of Fish and Game consider the Salt Marsh Common Yellowthroat a species of Conservation Concern. Both subspecies have been review candidates as Threatened or Endangered, but their level 2 listing means that no action will be taken until further research is complete.
What You Can Do
Look for Common Yellowthroats in your local wetlands, or patches of damp weeds and brush.
 
Join local efforts to keep wet farmland areas of out of production.
 
Support the federal Conservation Reserve Program, which benefits many wetland species and attracts the support of diverse groups. Learn more at the Farm Service Agency's website.
 
For actions you can take, including Audubon activities, please visit our resources page.
More Information
Visit our resources page for more information about this species.
Natural History References
Dunn, John L. and Kimball L. Garrett. A Field Guide to Warblers of North America. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, 1997.
 
Guzy, M. J., and G. Ritchison. 1999. Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas). In The Birds of North America, No. 448 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.
 
Kaufman, Kenn. 1996. Lives of North American Birds. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York.
 
Sibley, David Allen. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.
 
Conservation Status References
Dunn, John L. and Kimball L. Garrett. A Field Guide to Warblers of North America. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, 1996.
 
Guzy, M. J., and G. Ritchison. 1999. Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas). In The Birds of North America, No. 448 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.
 
Kaufman, Kenn. 1996. Lives of North American Birds. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York.
 
Sibley, David Allen. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.