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Pine Warbler

Setophaga pinus ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: PARULIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

A bird true to its name, the Pine Warbler is common in many eastern pine forests and is rarely seen away from pines. These yellowish warblers are hard to spot as they move along high branches to prod clumps of needles with their sturdy bills. If you don’t see them, listen for their steady, musical trill, which sounds very like a Chipping Sparrow or Dark-eyed Junco, which are also common piney-woods sounds through much of the year.

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At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
5.1–5.5 in
13–14 cm
Wingspan
7.5–9.1 in
19–23 cm
Weight
0.3–0.5 oz
9–15 g
Relative Size
Smaller than a White-throated Sparrow; larger than a Northern Parula.
Other Names
  • Paruline des pins (French)
  • Chipe pinero (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • The Pine Warbler is the only warbler that eats large quantities of seeds, primarily those of pines. This seed-eating ability means Pine Warblers sometimes visit bird feeders, unlike almost all other warblers.
  • Most warblers leave the continental U.S. for winter, but the Pine Warbler stays in the Southeast and is one of the first to return northward in spring. It arrives as early as February in areas just north of the wintering range and may begin breeding by late April.
  • The Pine Warbler’s closest relative seems to be the Olive-capped Warbler, which lives in pine forests of the West Indies. One of its next closest relatives is the ubiquitous Yellow-rumped Warbler, even though the two don’t superficially look much alike.
  • Migrant Pine Warblers from the northern part of the range join resident Pine Warblers in the southern United States in winter. Sometimes they form large flocks of 50 to 100 or more.
  • Individual Pine Warblers can show physical differences according to their diets: birds that were experimentally fed with mostly seeds developed larger gizzards (the organ that crushes food into pieces) and longer digestion times, while birds that ate fruit had longer intestines and shorter digestion times.
  • The oldest recorded Pine Warbler was a 6-year old bird captured in Massachusetts in 1932.

Habitat


Forest

Pine Warblers live in pine or mixed pine-deciduous forest, and you’ll rarely see them out of a pine tree. They’re not particularly specific about which species of pines they’ll use, and the list includes jack, pitch, red, white, Virginia, loblolly, shortleaf, slash, sand, and pond pines. Their wintering habitat is similar to their breeding habitat. Migrating Pine Warblers sometimes use shrubs and deciduous trees.

Food


Insects

Pine Warblers eat mostly caterpillars and other arthropods (including beetles, grasshoppers, bugs, ants, bees, flies, cockroach eggs, and spiders), but they also eat fruits and seeds (notably, pine seeds) especially during the colder months. They mostly forage by hopping along branches in the middles and tops of pines—moving more slowly than most warblers—while picking food from bark and needles. They sometimes feed from deciduous trees during migration. Pine Warblers may also feed on the ground and catch insects in the air.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
3–5 eggs
Number of Broods
1-2 broods
Egg Length
0.6–0.8 in
1.6–2 cm
Egg Width
0.5–0.6 in
1.2–1.5 cm
Incubation Period
10–13 days
Nestling Period
10 days
Egg Description
White, grayish, or greenish white with brown speckles.
Condition at Hatching
Undeveloped and downy.
Nest Description

The nest is a cup with an interior space about 1.5 inches across and equally deep. The female gathers most of the nest material, including grass, plant stems and fibers, bark strips, pine needles, twigs, and fine roots, binding them together with spider or caterpillar silk and lining the nest with feathers, hair, and plant down. In good weather she can finish the nest and begin laying eggs in 14 days. The male often escorts the female as she gathers materials, and occasionally helps build.

Nest Placement

Tree

Pine Warblers nearly always build their nests in pine trees, usually in pine or mixed pine-deciduous forest. Nests tend to be high in the tree and concealed among needles and cones.

Behavior


Bark Forager

Pine Warblers typically forage and sing high in pine trees. Males are aggressive in the early breeding season, in fall, and in winter. They chase other birds and indicate aggression by gliding or flying with stiff wingbeats toward and then away from their opponent, in a circle. Birds sometimes fight by flying toward each other and locking bills in the air. In winter Pine Warblers forage in mixed-species flocks, keeping a few feet of space between each other. Males establish breeding territories in late winter or spring, singing persistently and chasing intruders. Both parents will perform broken-wing displays to lure predators away from the nest. After the young fledge the warblers move around in family groups.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Pine Warbler populations saw a steady increase between 1966 and 2010 according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 13 million with 93 percent spending some part of the year in the U.S., and 3 percent breeding in Canada. They are a U.S.-Canada Stewardship species and rate a 7 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score. They are not on the 2012 Watch List. Across much of their range, their native pine forests have been altered or destroyed—by logging, development, and fire suppression, however over the last few decades they have been able to move into areas where pines have been introduced into deciduous forests. In the 1950s, DDT that was sprayed to contain Dutch elm disease killed some Pine Warblers.

Credits

Range Map Help

Pine Warbler Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Migration

Partial migrant. Pine Warblers from the northern U.S. and Canada migrate to wintering grounds in the southeastern U.S. Individuals that breed in the Southeast typically stay there year-round.

Backyard Tips

The only warbler that regularly eats seeds, the Pine Warbler will eat millet, cracked corn, sunflower seed, peanuts, and suet from elevated feeders in winter. It may also eat fruits from bushes and vines, like bayberry, flowering dogwood, grape, sumac, persimmon, and Virginia creeper.

Find This Bird

The best way to find Pine Warblers is to narrow them down by habitat and voice. Head for a pine forest in the eastern United States (check a range map for specifics), and then listen for a clear, steady, trilling song. Chipping Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos sound very similar and can occur in the same habitats, so be aware you might find these birds instead. Pine Warblers tend to stay high in pines and can be obscured by tufts of needles, but a bit of patience is likely to be rewarded.

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