At a Glance
During spring and summer, the fast, rolling song of the Kentucky Warbler comes from the undergrowth of eastern forests. This bird spends most of its time on the ground in moist, leafy woodlands, walking on the leaf-litter under thickets as it searches for insects. Despite its bright colors, it can be surprisingly hard to see in the shadows of the deep forest interior.
All bird guide text and rangemaps adapted from Lives of North American Birds by Kenn Kaufman© 1996, used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Perching Birds, Wood Warblers
Forests and Woodlands, Freshwater Wetlands, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets
California, Eastern Canada, Florida, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Plains, Southeast, Southwest, Texas
Direct Flight, Flitter
Range & Identification
Migration & Range Maps
Migrates mostly at night. Many fly across the Gulf of Mexico in spring and fall. Often departs from breeding grounds during August.
5 1/2" (14 cm). Bright yellow spectacles set off black crown and black whisker mark. Plain olive above, bright yellow below. Young male Common Yellowthroat similar but lacks obvious spectacles. Also see Canada Warbler.
About the size of a Robin, About the size of a Sparrow
Black, Green, Yellow
Songs and Calls
Loud, penetrating, rich tur-dle, tur-dle, tur-dle, tur-dle, reminiscent of song of Carolina Wren.
Woodland undergrowth. In summer, prefers deep shaded woods with dense, humid thickets, bottomlands near creeks and rivers, ravines in upland deciduous woods, and edges of swamps. In winter in the tropics, requires dense lowland forests and second growth, mostly in lowlands but also in foothills.
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4-5, sometimes 3-6. Creamy white, with brown spots. Incubation by female only, 12-13 days. Cowbirds often lay eggs in nests of this species.
Nestlings are fed by the female and rarely by the male. Young leave the nest 8-10 days after hatching. Both sexes then feed the fledglings for up to 17 days.
Forages mainly by walking on ground, seeking insects among the leaf litter, flipping over dead leaves, sometimes leaping up in the air to take insects from the underside of foliage. In winter in the tropics, sometimes accompanies swarms of army ants, picking up insects that flee the ants. Individuals defend small winter feeding territories.
Mostly insects. Feeds on various insects including moths, bugs, ants, grasshoppers, beetles, caterpillars, aphids, grubs; also spiders, plus a few berries.
During defense of breeding territories, males are persistent singers, singing as often as every 12 seconds. Nest: Placed on ground or within a few inches of it; at foot of shrub, in grass tussocks, bedstraw, or goldenrod, or sometimes in the lowest fork of small trees. Nest (built by both sexes) is a bulky, open cup of leaves, with a core of weeds, grass stems; lined with rootlets and hair.
Has declined with clearing of forest in some areas. Becomes more vulnerable to cowbird parasitism as forest is broken up into smaller patches. Also faces loss of habitat on wintering grounds.
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Kentucky Warbler. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.
Climate Threats Facing the Kentucky Warbler
Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.