At a Glance
Although it is small and very active, the Magnolia Warbler is not as difficult to observe as some warblers, because it often stays low in shrubbery and short trees. It favors second-growth habitats both summer (in the north woods) and winter (in the tropics), so it has not been hurt by habitat destruction as much as some migrants. Named by chance, since pioneer ornithologist Alexander Wilson happened to spot his first one in a southern magnolia tree during migration.
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, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets
Alaska and The North, California, Eastern Canada, Florida, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Direct Flight, Flitter
Range & Identification
Migration & Range Maps
Migrates at night. Most fly across Gulf of Mexico in spring and fall. Winters in Mexico, Central America, and West Indies, but most common in winter in Yucatan Peninsula. Strays reach west coast in spring and especially in fall.
5" (13 cm). Square-edged white band across outer tail feathers (from below, tail looks half white, half black). Yellow below, with streaks on sides; gray head, small yellow rump patch. Spring male has black mask, black back, much white in wing.
About the size of a Robin, About the size of a Sparrow
Black, Gray, White, Yellow
Songs and Calls
Weeta-weeta-weeteo. Call note a tslip.
Low conifers; in migration, other trees. Breeds most commonly in areas of short young spruce; also in young hemlocks and pines, and in dense understory of taller coniferous forest. During migration may be in any kind of deciduous shrubs or low trees. In winter in tropics, often in second-growth and scrub as well as edges of taller forest.
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Usually 4, sometimes 3 or 5. White, variably marked with brown, lavender, olive, and gray. Incubation is by female only, 11-13 days.
Fed by both parents. May leave nest at age of 8 days, usually 9-10 days. Young can fly at this stage, but may be fed by parents for up to 25 more days. 1 brood per year, perhaps rarely 2.
forages by hopping along branches, gleaning insects from conifer needles, leaves, and twigs. Takes most insects from underside of vegetation. Sometimes hovers or makes short flights after insects. In summer, males may tend to feed higher than females.
mostly insects. In breeding season, eats a variety of insects, including beetles, moth caterpillars, leafhoppers, and aphids; also spiders. May eat many spruce budworms when that insect is at epidemic numbers. Occasionally eats berries during inclement weather when insects may be scarce. Diet in migration and winter poorly known.
Male arrives on breeding grounds before female and establishes territory. Has two song types: one to defend territory against intruding males, other apparently to attract and communicate with mate. Nest site is well hidden in dense low conifer (especially spruce or hemlock), often near trunk on horizontal branch. Usually less than 10' above ground, sometimes up to 30'. Nest is flimsy cup of grasses, weeds, twigs, with lining of fine black rootlets. Both sexes help build nest, but female does most of work.
Numbers apparently stable or even increasing in some areas. Adapts to second-growth woods and cut-over areas better than some other warblers.
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Magnolia Warbler. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.
Climate Threats Facing the Magnolia 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.