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Orange-crowned Warbler

Oreothlypis celata ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: PARULIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Orange-crowned Warblers aren’t the most dazzling birds in their family, but they’re a useful one to learn. These grayish to olive-green birds vary in color geographically and have few bold markings. There’s rarely any sign of an orange crown. They might have you scratching your head until you recognize their slim shape, sharply pointed bill, and warmer yellow under the tail. These busy birds forage low in shrubs, and are one of the few warblers that's more common in the West than the East.

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At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
4.3–5.5 in
11–14 cm
Wingspan
7.5 in
19 cm
Weight
0.2–0.4 oz
7–11 g
Relative Size
Slightly larger than a Ruby-crowned Kinglet; slightly smaller than a Yellow-rumped Warbler.
Other Names
  • Paruline verdâtre (French)
  • Gusanero cabecigrís, Gusanero de corona anaranjada (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • The Orange-crowned Warbler is divided into four subspecies that differ in plumage color, size, and molt patterns. The one named celata is found in Alaska and across Canada, and it is the dullest and grayest. The Pacific Coast form, lutescens, is the brightest yellow. Found throughout the Rocky Mountains and Great Basin, orestera is intermediate in appearance. The form sordida is the darkest green and is found only on the Channel Islands and locally along the coast of southern California and northern Baja California.
  • Most Orange-crowned Warblers nest on the ground, possibly to avoid nest-robbing birds. One exception is the sordida or “dusky” subspecies that breeds on California’s Channel Islands. With fewer avian predators to worry about, it nests in tall shrubs and trees away from most snakes and mammals—except on Santa Cruz Island, where the endemic Island Scrub-Jay is a threat.
  • The male Orange-crowned Warbler’s song is far more variable than that of other wood warblers—so much so that the males can be told apart by their distinctive song patterns. Breeding males often form “song neighborhoods,” where two to six birds in adjacent territories learn and mimic each other’s songs. These “neighborhood” songs can persist for years.
  • Orange-crowned Warblers begin their spring migration earlier, stay later on the breeding grounds, and winter farther north than most other warblers. Food rather than day length seems to drive their migratory calendar, as they begin to leave the breeding grounds when cold or drought limit supplies of insect prey.
  • The oldest known Orange-crowned warbler was 8 years, 7 months old based on a recaptured bird banded in California.

Habitat


Forest

Look for Orange-crowned Warblers in shrubs and low-growing vegetation in riparian settings, patches of forest, and chaparral. This widespread species breeds in an impressive range of habitat types, from alders and willows scattered amongst stands of old-growth temperate rainforest in coastal Alaska, to fir-aspen woodlands up to 7,500 feet in central Arizona. In the northern Rockies Orange-crowned Warblers breed in open or logged forest, including clearcuts. Overall, they breed in more forest types than nearly any other warbler species. During breeding season in Washington they occur in willow, alder, and maple thickets along with brushy cover growing in old burns and second growth forest. Oregon breeders are common in the open canopy woodlands dominated by Oregon white oak and are less often seen in denser Douglas-fir forest. Central California breeders seek sites where California laurel, coast live oak, and madrone dominate. Birds breeding on the Channel Islands nest in plant communities of torrey pine, chaparral, and coastal bluff and sage scrub. Wintering Orange-crowned Warblers seek out habitat with structure similar to their breeding grounds, including oak woodland and mixed chaparral habitat in southern California, pine-oak forests in Mexico, and brushy woodlands and second growth in the Caribbean.

Food


Insects

Orange-crowned Warblers eat mainly invertebrate prey, including ants, beetles, spiders, flies, and caterpillars. Look for Orange-crowned Warblers from the ground to the treetops as they poke, clamber, and flit through vegetation. They supplement their insect diet with fruit, berries, seeds, and plant galls, and are common visitors at the sapwells drilled by sapsuckers and some other woodpeckers. These warblers also pierce the base of flowers to get at the nectar. In winter Orange-crowned Warblers can be attracted to backyard feeders offering suet and peanut butter, and they sometimes appear at hummingbird feeders.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
3–6 eggs
Egg Description
White to cream-colored, finely speckled with reddish-brown or chestnut.
Condition at Hatching
Eyes closed, skin covered in sparse, dark gray down. Chicks can raise heads weakly and gape.
Nest Description

The female builds the nest, taking up to 4 days to form an open cup nearly 4 inches across and 2.5 inches high. She first lays down a foundation of dead leaves, stems, and other coarse plant material, then weaves an outer layer that can be made up of leaves, coarse grass, fine twigs, bark, wood, moss, and sheep wool. She lines the nest cup with finer grasses, and animal hair from small mammals and sometimes elk or horses.

Nest Placement

Ground

Female Orange-crowned Warblers choose nest sites by fluttering through low vegetation, eventually choosing a site on or near the ground. Nest sites include shady hillsides, steep road or trail cuts, the bases of snowmelt drainages, and gullies or canyons, often sheltered by vegetation. Nests may be built on moss, in rock cracks or depressions in the soil, or on the ground directly below woody plants or nestled in fern fronds. Orange-crowned Warblers in the Channel Islands are the only subspecies to consistently build their nest off the ground, placing them in low shrubs and up to 20 feet high in toyon, coast live oak, and ironwood trees.

Behavior


Foliage Gleaner

Orange-crowned Warblers flit rapidly through shrubs, trees, vine tangles, and other vegetation as they glean insects from leaves and buds. They usually feed from perches but sometimes sally like a flycatcher to snag a flying insect or hover to reach the undersides of leaves. These wood warblers also poke through leaf litter and probe bark and moss with their sharp, fine-tipped bills in search of hidden prey. In later winter and spring, males sing as they establish territories to attract a mate, then enter a silent stage as courtship begins. A courting male may follow a potential partner through the undergrowth of his territory and may mimic a soliciting female by drooping his wings, spreading his tail, and pointing his bill skyward. Once the pair is established and the female has built the nest the male begins to sing again. During territorial displays or when threatened, males raise their crown feathers to flash a vivid orange patch. Male Orange-crowned Warblers can spend hours chasing off a conspecific male, but will tolerate other species nesting close by, including Song Sparrows, Wilson’s Warblers, and MacGillivray’s Warblers. Orange-crowned Warblers mix with other warbler species, juncos, chickadees, kinglets, and vireos during migration and on the wintering grounds.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Orange-crowned Warblers are abundant in some parts of their breeding range, but overall their numbers have declined by almost 1 percent per year since 1968, resulting in a cumulative decline of 33 percent, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 80 million, with 62 percent breeding in Canada, 51 percent spending part of the year in the U.S., and 47 percent wintering in Mexico. The species rates a 9 out of 20 on the Conservation Concern Score and is not on the 2012 Watch List. Overall, Orange-crowned Warblers have probably benefited from logging practices that open up forest canopies and create dense shrub growth. However, practices that damage shrub layers can reduce habitat suitability for the species. Examples include some logging practices in coastal Alaska, and cattle grazing in California oak woodlands. Preserving wooded stream corridors in the West would be an important step to ensure habitat remains for migrating warblers. Other causes of Orange-crowned Warber mortality include collisions with airport towers, TV towers and wind turbines.

Credits

Range Map Help

Orange-crowned Warbler Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Migration

Medium to long-distance nocturnal migrant. Many birds winter in Mexico, with some continuing south to Guatemala and Belize. Others winter in central California and the southern U.S. The subspecies of Orange-crowned Warbler that breeds on California’s Channel Islands migrates to the California coast as early as mid-July, where they spread north to northern California and south to Baja California for the nonbreeding season.

Backyard Tips

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.