Immature Tennessee Warblers are easy to mistake for Orange-crowned Warblers but have undertail coverts that are white or pale yellow and always paler and duller than the chest. They also lack the white or yellow eye arcs (incomplete eyering) of Orange-crowned. Yellow Warblers are usually brighter yellow and have a thick, blunt bill and a blank face without an obviously contrasting superciliary or eyeline. Immature Common Yellowthroats lack the Orange-crowned Warbler’s black eyeline and have a longer, thicker, blunter bill. Virginia’s Warbler has an obvious white eyering, grayer plumage, and a longer tail than Orange-crowned Warbler. In Nashville Warblers the breast is unstreaked and it is at least as bright as the undertail coverts; they also show an obvious white eyering. Vireos move more methodically and have a bulkier shape than Orange-crowned Warblers, especially their larger heads and thicker, blunter bills. Hutton’s Vireo shows wing bars; Philadelphia Vireo tends to have unstreaked, brighter yellow underparts.
Orange-crowned Warblers of the Pacific slope are quite bright, even yellowish, and can be readily confused with Yellow Warblers (see Similar Species). The stripe over the eye (superciliary) is always yellow, as are their underparts, and the blurry olive streaks contrast more strongly than in other forms of the species. In the Interior West, Orange-crowned Warblers usually have gray heads. Though some may have yellow-green heads, they still usually contrast fairly obviously with a brighter olive back. These birds may have white or yellow superciliaries. The largest subspecies, sordida, occurs only on the Channel Islands of California.
Orange-crowned Warblers sometimes visit feeders for suet, peanut butter, or sugar water.
Find This Bird
In the East, Orange-crowned Warblers are somewhat scarce, although you may find them by watching for them in late spring and late fall (primarily October) or throughout the winter in the southeastern US in low, dense habitats. Listen carefully for the high and sharp call note that the species gives frequently. In the West the species is common, often among the most abundant three warbler species on migration. On the breeding grounds listen for their rapidly trilled song. It’s similar to a Chipping Sparrow, but it descends in pitch at the end. Western birds migrate earlier than eastern birds in both spring and fall and use nearly any vegetated habitats.