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Help develop a Bird ID tool!

Yellow Warbler

Setophaga petechia ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: PARULIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

North America has more than 50 species of warblers, but few combine brilliant color and easy viewing quite like the Yellow Warbler. In summer, the buttery yellow males sing their sweet whistled song from willows, wet thickets, and roadsides across almost all of North America. The females and immatures aren’t as bright, and lack the male’s rich chestnut streaking, but their overall warm yellow tones, unmarked faces, and prominent black eyes help pick them out.

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Keys to identification Help

Warblers
Warblers
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Yellow Warblers are small, evenly proportioned songbirds with medium-length tails and rounded heads. For a warbler, the straight, thin bill is relatively large.

  • Color Pattern

    Yellow Warblers are uniformly yellow birds. Males are a bright, egg-yolk yellow with reddish streaks on the underparts. Both sexes flash yellow patches in the tail. The face is unmarked, accentuating the large black eye.

  • Behavior

    Look for Yellow Warblers near the tops of tall shrubs and small trees. They forage restlessly, with quick hops along small branches and twigs to glean caterpillars and other insects. Males sing their sweet, whistled songs from high perches.

  • Habitat

    Yellow Warblers breed in shrubby thickets and woods, particularly along watercourses and in wetlands. Common trees include willows, alders, and cottonwoods across North America and up to about 9,000 feet in the West. In winter they mainly occur in mangrove forests of Central and South America.

Range Map Help

Yellow Warbler Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult male

    Yellow Warbler

    Adult male
    • Stout-bodied, short-tailed warbler
    • Bright yellow
    • Eastern males show rich chestnut-brown streaking on breast and belly
    • Yellow-green upperparts
    • © Jim McCree, Easton, Maine, May 2011
  • Adult female

    Yellow Warbler

    Adult female
    • Stout-billed, long-bodied warbler
    • Mostly bright yellow overall
    • Olive tones on back and crown
    • Plain, bright yellow face
    • © Bill Thompson, Athol, Massachusetts, May 2011
  • Adult male

    Yellow Warbler

    Adult male
    • Short-tailed, stout-bodied warbler
    • Bright yellow
    • Males from southwestern population show faint chestnut streaks on belly
    • Yellow-green upperparts
    • © Carlos Escamilla, Laredo, Texas, May 2011
  • Adult female

    Yellow Warbler

    Adult female
    • Stout-billed and short-tailed
    • Bright yellow overall
    • Large black eye stands out on plain yellow face
    • Yellow green upper-parts
    • © ship rock, Delta, British Columbia, Canada, September 2010
  • Adult male

    Yellow Warbler

    Adult male
    • Stout-billed and short-tailed warbler
    • Bright yellow with rufous-brown streaking on underparts
    • Yellow spots on dusky gray tail feathers
    • Yellow-green upperparts
    • © Raymond Lee, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, May 2010
  • Adult female

    Yellow Warbler

    Adult female
    • Stout bill and elongated body
    • Bright yellow overall with plain yellow face
    • Duller yellow-green above
    • Large black eye
    • © photosbyjoe, Texas, August 2011
  • Adult male

    Yellow Warbler

    Adult male
    • Elongated, but heavy-bodied warbler
    • Bright yellow
    • Chestnut brown streaks on breast and belly
    • Stout black bill
    • © William Jobes, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, May 2009
  • Adult male "Mangrove Warbler"

    Yellow Warbler

    Adult male "Mangrove Warbler"
    • Adult males of "Mangrove" population in Latin America have rufous hood
    • Stout-bodied and short-tailed
    • Bright yellow below, yellow-green above
    • © Fritz Fucik, Puntarenas, Costa Rica, May 2011

Similar Species

  • Adult male

    Wilson's Warbler

    Adult male
    • Similar to female Yellow Warbler
    • Black cap distinctive
    • Smaller overall with thin, stubby bill
    • © Reid Barclay, Alberta, Canada, June 2009
  • Adult female

    Wilson's Warbler

    Adult female
    • Similar to female Yellow Warbler
    • Smaller and more slender-bodied
    • Small, stubby bill
    • Dusky tail with no yellow spots
    • © Stephen Ramirez, San Marcos, Texas, September 2011
  • Adult female

    Hooded Warbler

    Adult female
    • Similar to female Yellow Warbler
    • Much duller, olive-green upperparts
    • Long tail with distinctive white patches
    • Olive crown gives "hooded" effect
    • © Andy Jordan, High Island, Texas, April 2010
  • Adult

    Orange-crowned Warbler

    Adult
    • Bill thinner and more sharply-pointed than Yellow Warbler
    • Duller olive-yellow overall
    • Pale yellow crescents above and below eye
    • Dusky face
    • © Lois Manowitz, Tucson , Arizona, December 2009
  • Breeding adult Eastern

    Palm Warbler

    Breeding adult Eastern
    • Longer-tailed and more flat-headed than Yellow Warbler
    • Rusty crown disctinctive
    • More sharply-pointed bill
    • Dusky gray-brown face and upperparts
    • © Bill Benish, Central Park, New York, New York, April 2011

Similar Species

American Goldfinches have much shorter, thicker bills and shorter, more deeply notched tails than Yellow Warblers. Male goldfinches are more lemon-yellow and have strongly marked black wings, tail, and cap. Female and immature warblers lack the strong markings of males, and many species can be confusing. Yellow Warblers are notable for their overall plain yellowness and yellow highlights in the tail; other species typically show more markings and colors. Female Common Yellowthroats are browner above and their yellow underparts are brightest on the throat; they stay close to the ground in shrubs and tangles. Wilson’s Warblers have a black or dusky cap. Hooded Warblers usually show at least a dusky outline to the face and have white patches in the tail. Orange-crowned Warblers have thinner, pointier bills and an eyering or line over the eye; they are a duller, more greenish-yellow to olive. Palm Warblers stay close to the ground and habitually twitch their tails. They are much browner on the back and wings, with a chestnut cap.

Regional Differences

Yellow Warblers differ only slightly across continental North America. Various subspecies that live year-round in the Caribbean and in mangrove forests of Central and South America have bright chestnut on the crown or over the entire head; these subspecies are often referred to as “Golden” or “Mangrove” Yellow Warblers. There is a very small population of “Mangrove” Yellow Warblers in extreme south Texas.

Backyard Tips

Yellow Warblers eat mostly insects, so they don’t come to backyard feeders. Larger yards that have small trees or are near streams may provide nesting habitat for these birds.

Find This Bird

Listen for Yellow Warblers singing when you’re in wet woods, thickets, or streamsides—they’re one of the most commonly heard warblers in spring and summer. Their song isn’t hard to learn—a tumbling series of whistles that sounds like sweet sweet sweet I’m so sweet. Look for them in the tops of willows and other small trees.

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