Conservation status Surveys show declining numbers in recent decades. Over much of range, requires brushy areas growing up after clearing or fires, and disappears as forests mature. Also hurt by cowbird parasitism.
Family Wood Warblers
Habitat Brushy slashings, bushy pastures, low pines. Breeds in dry old clearings, edges of forest, and sandy pine barrens with undergrowth of scrub oaks, especially on ends of slopes and ridges. Likes thick second-growth of hickory, dogwood, hazel, or laurel with blackberry vines. In Florida, breeds in mangrove swamps. Found in flat, grassy lands with scattered trees and bushes in the South in the winter.
Not a bird of open prairies, this warbler nests mainly in young second growth scrub and densely overgrown fields in eastern North America. Such habitats are often temporary, and colonies may shift around from year to year. In Florida, more permanent populations are found in coastal mangroves. In all of these sun-drenched habitats, the thin buzzy song of the male seems suited to the glare of hot summer days. Prairie Warblers usually stay low, moving about actively in the brush and flicking their tails.

Feeding Behavior

Forages mainly by taking insects while perched or hopping on branches or twigs. Also catches flying insects in mid-air, and takes insects from undersides of leaves (and spiders from their webs) while hovering. Will also feed occasionally by hanging upside down from tips of branches or by flying down to pick up insects from ground.


4, sometimes 3-5. Off-white, with brown spots concentrated at larger end. Incubated by female for usually 12 (11-14) days. Commonly parasitized by cowbirds. Young: Fed by both parents; leave the nest at 8-11 days. Fledglings may be divided by parents, each adult caring for part of brood for 40-50 days until young are independent. Often 2 broods per season.


Fed by both parents; leave the nest at 8-11 days. Fledglings may be divided by parents, each adult caring for part of brood for 40-50 days until young are independent. Often 2 broods per season.


Mostly insects. Feeds on many insects including caterpillars, moths, tree crickets, lacewings, true bugs, beetles, ants, flies; also spiders and millipedes. Also eats a few berries, and occasionally sap from holes drilled in trees by sapsuckers. Nestlings are fed mostly caterpillars.


Some males have more than one mate. Often breeds in loose colonies. Males return year after year to the same breeding territory, but females often do not. Males utter a loud, harsh rattle during fights with other males. During courtship, male performs slow butterfly-like display flights; also chases female. Nest: Placed in site selected by female. Usually in a tree (such as pine, cedar, sweet-gum, oak), 1-45' above the ground. In coastal Florida, usually in mangroves. Nest (built by female) an open cup, made of densely felted plant materials such as plant down, and lined with animal hair.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

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Some Florida birds may be permanent residents. In much of range, southward migration begins by late summer, but a few birds may linger quite late in fall.

  • 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.

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Songs and Calls

Buzzy zee-zee-zee, up to 10 rapidly ascending notes.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the Prairie Warbler

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.

Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.

Climate Threats Near You

Climate threats facing the Prairie 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.