Photo: Glenn Bartley/Vireo

Yellow Warbler

Setophaga petechia

Conservation status Because it favors second growth and edges, not as vulnerable to loss of habitat as some warblers. Current populations probably stable.
Family Wood Warblers
Habitat 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.
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.
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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.


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.


Young

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

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.


Nesting

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.

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

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Migration

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

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Migration

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

Songs and Calls
Song a bright, musical sweet-sweet-sweet, sweeter-than-sweet. Call a sharp chip.

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