Photo: Glenn Bartley/Vireo

Black-and-white Warbler

Mniotilta varia

This bird is often a favorite warbler for beginning birders, because it is easy to see and easy to recognize. It was once known as the "Black-and-white Creeper," a name that describes its behavior quite well. Like a nuthatch or creeper (and unlike other warblers), it climbs about on the trunks and major limbs of trees, seeking insects in the bark crevices. It often feeds low, and nests even lower, usually on the ground.
Conservation status Has disappeared from some former nesting areas, especially in South and Midwest. Still widespread and common.
Family Wood Warblers
Habitat Woods; trunks, limbs of trees. Breeds in mature or second-growth forests, deciduous and mixed. Often in woods on dry, rocky hillsides and ravines. Also nests in dry portions of wooded swamps. In migration, seen most often on trunks and low branches of trees within woodlands and thickets. In winter in the tropics, found in trees from sea level to high in the mountains.
This bird is often a favorite warbler for beginning birders, because it is easy to see and easy to recognize. It was once known as the "Black-and-white Creeper," a name that describes its behavior quite well. Like a nuthatch or creeper (and unlike other warblers), it climbs about on the trunks and major limbs of trees, seeking insects in the bark crevices. It often feeds low, and nests even lower, usually on the ground.
Photo Gallery
  • adult male, breeding
  • adult female
  • adult male, nonbreeding
  • immature male (1st year)
  • adult male, breeding
  • adult male, breeding
Feeding Behavior

Adapted to creeping along limbs and on tree trunks to feed. Switches body from side to side at each hop while foraging. In early spring, takes dormant insects from tree trunks and branches. Sometimes flies out after flying insects.


Eggs

5, sometimes 4, rarely 6. Creamy white, flecked with brown at large end. Incubated by female only, 10-12 days. Commonly parasitized by cowbirds. Young: Fed by both parents. Leave the nest 8-12 days after hatching, before they are able to fly well.


Young

Fed by both parents. Leave the nest 8-12 days after hatching, before they are able to fly well.

Diet

Insects. Feeds on a wide variety of caterpillars (including those of gypsy moths), beetles (including bark beetles, click beetles, and wood borers), ants, flies, bugs, leafhoppers, aphids, and other insects; also spiders and daddy longlegs.


Nesting

Males arrive on breeding grounds in late April, before the females. During courtship, male chases female, with much singing and fluttering. Nest: Placed on ground (or less than 2' up), under dead leaves or limbs, against a shrub, rock, log, or tree. Usually constructed in cavity at top of stump or in a depression in the ground. Open cup (built by female) made of leaves, coarse grass stems, bark strips, pine needles, rootlets; lined with fine grass or hair.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Migration

Spring migration begins rather early; migration is spread over a lengthy period in both spring and fall. Strays may appear in the west at any season. Migrates mostly at night.

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Migration

Spring migration begins rather early; migration is spread over a lengthy period in both spring and fall. Strays may appear in the west at any season. Migrates mostly at night.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A thin, high-pitched, monotonous weesy-weesy-weesy-weesy, like a squeaky wheelbarrow.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.