At a Glance
Small, pale, and plain, this bird is unimpressive in appearance, but it is notable as the only warbler that nests in the hot deserts of the Southwest. Lucy's Warblers return to the desert early in spring, and pairs can be found foraging in brush along the washes even before the mesquites have leafed out. Unlike most warblers, they raise their young in cavities, placing their nests inside old woodpecker holes or under loose slabs of bark.
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
Arroyos and Canyons, Desert and Arid Habitats, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets
California, Southwest, Texas
Direct Flight, Flitter, Rapid Wingbeats
Range & Identification
Migration & Range Maps
Migrates very early in both spring and fall, with most arriving in the Southwest in March, and the species becoming hard to find there after mid-August.
4" (10 cm). Pale gray above, creamy below, with very pale face. Chestnut rump patch sometimes hidden (duller in young birds). Male has chestnut on crown. Fall birds washed buff below.
About the size of a Robin, About the size of a Sparrow
Black, Gray, Red, White
Songs and Calls
Song reminiscent of that of Yellow Warbler: chit chit chit chit sweeta che-che-che. Call is a soft plenk, often run into a series.
Chirp/Chip, Hi, Trill, Whistle
Mesquite along desert streams and washes; willows, cottonwoods. Breeds mostly in cottonwood-mesquite woods near desert streams or in open groves of mesquite along dry washes in the Sonoran desert. Also found in sycamore and live oak groves near streams in the lower parts of canyons close to arid lowlands.
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4-5, sometimes 3-7. White or creamy, with red-brown spots near large end. Incubation is by female, possibly also by male. Incubation period unknown. Young: Both parents feed nestlings. Age at which young leave the nest is not well known. Probably 2 broods per year.
Both parents feed nestlings. Age at which young leave the nest is not well known. Probably 2 broods per year.
Most common method of foraging is to hop rapidly about in mesquites and other desert trees and bushes, taking insects from the foliage and twigs. Typically, warblers in this genus do much probing of buds and flowers. Sometimes observed flying out to catch insects in mid-air.
Mostly or entirely insects. Diet is not known in detail; undoubtedly feeds mostly on insects.
Male displays to the female during courtship by fluffing plumage, raising crown feathers and spreading wings and tail. Nest: Placed in natural hollows in mesquites, old woodpecker holes, under loose bark (especially bark peeled from trunk by fire), sometimes in deserted Verdin nest or hole in eroded stream bank. Typically nests 5-40' above ground. Nest (built by both sexes) is loosely and raggedly made of coarse grass and weeds, bark strips, mesquite leaf stems, surrounding a compact cup of fine grasses. Lined with animal hair or feathers.
Undoubtedly has declined with loss of streamside groves and clearing of mesquite woods in Southwest. Still very common in appropriate habitat.
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Lucy's Warbler. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.
Climate Threats Facing the Lucy's 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.