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Spring Warbler

Banded Spring Migration, 1996 - Carmel, Indiana

General Information

The following photos illustrate some of the many species of warblers regularly seen each year at our banding station. Of the 113 or so species of warblers that occur in the new world, more than 50 migrate to or extend their range into North America to breed. These colorful little birds with their musical songs usually arrive here just as the trees and foliage are leafing out, and are popular with the birdwatching community.

These birds play an extremely important role in the ecology of North American forests. Their arrival as the trees leaf out is timed well with the emergence of many destructive insect pests, especially caterpillars. These birds work over the trees from top to bottom, gleaning the insects that are emerging. Interestingly enough, studies have shown that the part of the tree covered is somewhat species specific. Some species feed at low and mid levels (Myrtle Warbler), some on the trunk and branches (Black-and-white Warbler), some feed at mid levels near the outside (Black-throated Green Warbler), some at mid level on the inside (Blackburnian Warbler), and others feeding at the uppermost portion of the tree (Cape May and Cerulean Warbler).

The populations of many species are declining. Because of their importance to the health of our forests and their aesthetic value to our world, it is critically important that the causes of these declines be identified and effective measures taken to halt and reverse these population declines.


The Blackburnian Warbler with its fiery orange throat is considered by many to be one of the most spectacular of the Dendroica group. This long distance migrant from the Neotropics arrives in North America to breed in mature coniferous and secondary growth forest. Their habit of singing from the very tops of tall trees makes them difficult to view on their breeding territory.


Male Blackburnian Warbler
Figure 1 - Male Blackburnian Warbler

Male Canada Warbler
Figure 2 - Male Canada Warbler

The yellow spectacles and black necklace on a bright yellow breast are the certain field marks of the Canada Warbler. This long distance migrant from northern and northwestern South America is commonly seen during its migratory travels through the eastern and central US.


The male Chestnut-sided Warbler sports a golden yellow crown and rich chestnut flanks. A resident of Central America, this species favors edge habitat for breeding territory. Unlike most warbler species, the clearing of forests has actually benefited this species by creating more of its preferred edge habitat.


Male Chestnut-sided Warbler
Figure 3 - Male Chestnut-sided Warbler

Male Magnolia Warbler
Figure 4 - Male Magnolia Warbler

With more variable plumages than any other warbler species, this resident of Central America and the West Indies seeks out the coniferous forests of northern North America to raise its young. The extensive white band across the tail is characteristic for this species.


Black-and-white Warblers are noted for their foraging habit of creeping nuthatch-like up and down and along trunks and branches. A resident of the extreme southeastern coast of the US, Central and South America and the West Indies, this species seeks out breeding territories in moist woodlands in northern and eastern North America.


Male Black-and-white Warbler
Figure 5 - Male Black-and-white Warbler

Male Blackpole Warbler
Figure 6 - Male Blackpole Warbler

The Blackpoll Warbler is the king of migrant warblers. Wintering as far south as Chile, this species seeks out the spruce forests of the northern extremes of Alaska and North America, making a round trip that in some cases may cover more than 14,000 miles! Note the black head and white face that distinguish this species from the Black-and-white Warbler (Fig. 5).


Wilson’s Warbler is common especially in western North America. The black cap on the adult male is reduced or lacking on the female. A resident of Central America, this species nests on the ground in many different habitat types where a well developed understory is found.


Male Wilson's Warbler
Figure 7 - Male Wilson's Warbler

Male American Redstart
Figure 8 - Male American Redstart

The male American Redstart obtains its spectacular black, red, white and yellow plumage during its second year. In habits, this species seems more like a flycatcher than a warbler. Well developed rictal bristles around the broadly based bill attest to its flycatcher like lifestyle.


One’s first encounter with the Prothonotary Warbler is unforgettable. Once called the Golden Swamp Warbler for its color and its preference for swampy habitats, this species is unusual among warblers for its habit of nesting in tree cavities.



Female Prothonotary Warbler
Figure 9 - Female Prothonotary Warbler

Bay-breasted Warbler
Figure 10 - Bay-breasted Warbler


Another long distance migrant, the Bay-breasted Warbler is resident to the northern regions of South America. It seeks out the coniferous forests of Canada for breeding, making a round trip of some 6,000 miles.

The Northern and Louisiana Waterthrushes are very similar in appearance. Both species are resident to Central and northern South America. In North America, the Northern Waterthrush breeds further north than the Louisiana Waterthrush. Preferred nesting sites are thickets and woodlands near water.


Northern Waterthrush
Figure 11 - Northern Waterthrush

 Male Golden-winged Warbler
Figure 12 - Male Golden-winged Warbler

The Golden-winged Warbler is closely related to and often interbreeds with the Blue-winged Warbler, producing the dominant Brewster’s and the recessive Lawrence’s Warbler. A resident of Central and South America, these birds migrate to the northeastern US and Great Lakes region to seek out their preferred successional old fields with woodlands to nest.


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