Conservation status Undoubtedly has declined with loss of streamside groves and clearing of mesquite woods in Southwest. Still very common in appropriate habitat.
Family Wood Warblers
Habitat 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.
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.

Feeding Behavior

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.


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.


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.

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

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

Download Our Bird Guide App


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.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon

See a fully interactive migration map for this species on the Bird Migration Explorer.

Learn more

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.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.