At a Glance
A rather plain warbler that spends the summer in brush and chaparral on dry mountainsides in the West. The dense low nature of its habitat often makes Virginia's Warbler hard to observe, but its presence is revealed by its simple trilled song and by its hard callnote, tsick. Although it is common over much of the West, its nesting behavior remains poorly known, partly because its nest is extremely difficult to find.
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, Forests and Woodlands, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets
California, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southwest, Texas
Direct Flight, Flitter, Rapid Wingbeats
Range & Identification
Migration & Range Maps
Probably migrates mostly at night, like other warblers. Southward migration begins quite early, the birds mostly disappearing from the breeding grounds in August.
4-4 1/4" (10-11 cm). Gray, paler below, with white eye-ring and yellow undertail coverts. Yellow wash on chest obvious on adult males, may be faint on young females.
About the size of a Robin, About the size of a Sparrow
Black, Gray, White, Yellow
Songs and Calls
Song a musical seedle-seedle-seedle, sweet, sweet. Call is a sharp plink.
Oak canyons, brushy slopes, pinyons. Breeds on dry mountainsides in scrub oak, chaparral, pinyon-juniper woods, or other low brushy habitats. In some areas, prefers mountain mahogany and Gambel oak. In migration, frequently in woods along streams. In winter in Mexico, at mid-elevations in dry scrub.
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4, sometimes 3-5. White to creamy with fine reddish brown spots. Incubation probably by female. Eggs and young frequently fall prey to jays or snakes. Apparently nests are only rarely parasitized by cowbirds.
Fed by both parents. Age at leaving nest is not well known. Possibly 2 broods per year.
During the breeding season, forages mostly by taking insects among foliage and twigs. Also observed feeding on the ground, and catching flying insects in mid-air. May do much probing of buds and flowers. In winter in Mexico, feeds low, mostly within 15' of the ground.
Presumably mostly insects. Diet is not known in detail, presumed to eat a wide variety of small insects, like other warblers.
Breeding behavior is not well known. Arriving on breeding grounds in April and early May, the male sings from perches on exposed dead limbs. Pairs begin nesting by early June. Males defend large territories. Nest: Usually very difficult to find. Placed under grass tufts in hollow of decaying leaves on ground covered by dense brush. Frequently on steep hillside or talus slope. Nest (probably built by female) is open cup of coarse grass, bark strips, roots, and moss, lined with animal hair and moss.
Still common, but surveys suggest declining populations.
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Virginia's Warbler. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.
Climate Threats Facing the Virginia'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.