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Help develop a Bird ID tool!

Common Yellowthroat

Geothlypis trichas ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: PARULIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

A broad black mask lends a touch of highwayman’s mystique to the male Common Yellowthroat. Look for these furtive, yellow-and-olive warblers skulking through tangled vegetation, often at the edges of marshes and wetlands. Females lack the mask and are much browner, though they usually show a hint of warm yellow at the throat. Yellowthroats are vocal birds, and both their witchety-witchety-witchety songs and distinctive call notes help reveal the presence of this, one of our most numerous warblers.

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Keys to identification Help

Warblers
Warblers
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Common Yellowthroats are small songbirds with chunky, rounded heads and medium-length, slightly rounded tails.

  • Color Pattern

    Adult males are bright yellow below, with a sharp black face mask and olive upperparts. A thin whitish line sets off the black mask from the head and neck. Immature males show traces of the full mask of adult males. Females are a plain olive brown, usually with yellow brightening the throat and under the tail. They lack the black mask.

  • Behavior

    Common Yellowthroats spend much of their time skulking low to the ground in dense thickets and fields, searching for small insects and spiders. Males sing a very distinctive, rolling wichety-wichety-wichety song, and both sexes give a full-sounding chuck note that is easy to learn. During migration, this is often the most common warbler found in fields and edges. It sometimes joins other warbler species in mixed foraging flocks.

  • Habitat

    Yellowthroats live in open areas with thick, low vegetation, ranging from marsh to grassland to open pine forest. During migration, they use an even broader suite of habitats including backyards and forest.

Range Map Help

Common Yellowthroat Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult male

    Common Yellowthroat

    Adult male
    • Small, stocky warbler
    • Male shows distinctive black "bandit" mask
    • Bright, lemon-yellow throat and bresat
    • Olive-green wings and tail
    • © Ian Davies, Barnstable, Massachusetts, June 2010
  • Female

    Common Yellowthroat

    Female
    • Small and compact
    • Mostly dull olive-gray overall
    • Yellow throat
    • Short bill
    • © Bill Thompson, Hawley, Massachusetts, September 2011
  • Adult male

    Common Yellowthroat

    Adult male
    • Small, compact warbler
    • Male shows obvious black mask and bright yellow throat
    • Dull olive wings and tail
    • Very short neck and small bill
    • © Joel DeYoung, Holland , Michigan, May 2012
  • Female

    Common Yellowthroat

    Female
    • Small, short-necked, compact warbler
    • Dull olive/grey overall with contrasting yellow throat
    • Short bill
    • Rounded tail
    • © Bill Thompson, Amherst, Massachusetts, June 2012
  • Adult Male

    Common Yellowthroat

    Adult Male
    • Small and stocky
    • Often inquisitive and bold
    • Distinctive black mask with bright yellow throat
    • Olive-green upperparts
    • © J.M. Kosciw, Tolland County, Connecticut, May 2009
  • Immature male

    Common Yellowthroat

    Immature male
    • Similar to female, but with black mask starting to develop
    • Bright, lemon-yellow-throat
    • Short, rounded wings
    • Olive-green wings and tail
    • © Bill Thompson, Quabbin, Massachusetts, August 2012

Similar Species

  • Nonbreeding male

    Connecticut Warbler

    Nonbreeding male
    • Larger and longer-bodied than Common Yellowthroat
    • Long bill and legs
    • Yellow on breast and under-tail, but not obvious on throat
    • Usually shows white eye-ring
    • © Stuart Oikawa, Manitoba, Canada, September 2011
  • Nonbreeding adult

    Nashville Warbler

    Nonbreeding adult
    • Bill longer and more sharply-pointed than Common Yellowthroat
    • White eye ring
    • Slaty gray head
    • © Bill Thompson, South Athol, Massachusetts, October 2011
  • Nonbreeding male

    American Goldfinch

    Nonbreeding male
    • Longer wings and tail
    • Conical bill
    • Contrasting pattern on wings
    • © Ed Schneider, Whites Creek, Tennessee, November 2008

Similar Species

Adult male Common Yellowthroats are relatively straightforward to identify with their black mask and yellow underparts. Male Hooded Warblers show the reverse facial pattern—a golden face and black hood, and they live in more forested habitats. Yellow-breasted Chats are larger and lankier than Common Yellowthroats; they are overall dark olive above with a poorly defined gray-and-black mask, and have thick bills and white “spectacles.” Female and immature Common Yellowthroats can be more confusing. Female Mourning Warblers have fully yellow underparts, whereas yellowthroats tend to be brown on the belly. Mourning Warblers tend to be more secretive than Common Yellowthroats. Female and immature Yellow Warblers are more yellow and less brown overall; also look for flashes of yellow in the tail, absent in Common Yellowthroats. Other fall warblers can have an overall unmarked yellow look, particularly Hooded Warbler and Wilson’s Warbler, but don’t show the brown tones or hint of yellow in the throat of a Common Yellowthroat. Orange-crowned Warblers and Nashville Warblers are also less brown and have a different shape, with slender bodies, slim, finely tipped bills, and dark legs.

Backyard Tips

Your yard could attract Common Yellowthroats if it is fairly large (yellowthroat territories are sometimes as small as 0.5 acre) and features dense or tangled, low-growing grasses and other vegetation.

Find This Bird

Common Yellowthroats are easy to find during spring and summer in much of North America. Just visit open habitats such as marshes, wetland edges, and brushy fields. Listen for the male’s wichety-wichety-wichety song, which they sing frequently during summer, and is easy to recognize. Even their call notes are distinctive, so listen for their husky, low chuck coming from the undergrowth. When you hear one calling, look low in bushes and trees for a quick, small bird, olive above and yellow below. If you don’t spot one after a while, try making a “pishing” sound; yellowthroats are inquisitive birds and often pop into the open to see who’s making the sound.

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