Conservation status Has disappeared from some areas with clearing of forest. Current numbers probably stable. Will become more vulnerable to parasitism by cowbirds where forest is broken up into smaller patches.
Family Wood Warblers
Habitat Leafy wooded slopes. During breeding season, frequents dense deciduous woodlands. Prefers cool, shaded banks, sheer gullies and steep, forested slopes covered with medium-sized trees and an undergrowth of saplings and shrubs. In winter in the tropics, forages alone in dense thickets or in the forest undergrowth, usually near the ground.
A dry trilled song in the undergrowth of deciduous woods in summer announces that the Worm-eating Warbler is at home. Less colorful than most of its relatives, it is also more sluggish, foraging deliberately in the woodland understory or on the ground, probing among dead leaves with its rather long bill. Despite the name, it does not feed on earthworms; it does eat caterpillars, but no more than many other warblers.

Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly in trees and shrubs. Probes in curled, dead leaves for insects, and searches on bark of trunks and limbs. Forages also on the ground, walking while seeking insects on the leaf-litter.


4-5, sometimes 3-6. White, with brown spots and blotches. Incubated by female alone, 13 days. In most areas, rarely parasitized by cowbirds, possibly because it breeds mainly in dense woods far from edges. In some areas, parasitism by cowbirds appears to be more common. Young: Fed by both parents. Leave the nest at 10 days of age. Probably 1 brood per year.


Fed by both parents. Leave the nest at 10 days of age. Probably 1 brood per year.


Mostly insects. Eats smooth caterpillars, but rarely or never takes the earthworms that the name would seem to imply. Also feeds on small grasshoppers, bugs, ants, bees, walkingsticks, beetles, sawfly larvae, and spiders. Feeds nestlings on moths and grubs.


Males defend territories by singing from perches at mid-levels or on the ground. Besides the usual insect-like trill, male also sings a musical, varied song during flight as part of courtship. Nest: Placed on ground, normally on hillside against a deciduous shrub or sapling, well concealed by dead leaves. Nest (constructed by female) is an open cup of dead leaf skeletons; lined with fungus filaments, hair moss, maple seed stems, animal hair.

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

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Migrates mostly at night. Fall migration begins early, many moving south in August. Very rare stray in west, mostly 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

Song like that of Chipping Sparrow, but faster, buzzy, and more insect-like.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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