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Magnolia Warbler Life History



Magnolia Warblers breed in dense stands of young conifer trees, especially spruce in the north and hemlock in the south. During migration they forage in dense areas along forest edges, woodlots, and parks. On the wintering grounds, they occur from sea level to 5,000 feet in a variety of areas including cacao plantations, orchards, forests, and thickets.

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Magnolia Warblers primarily eat caterpillars, especially spruce budworm when it is abundant. They also eat insects and spiders and occasionally take fruit in the fall. They tend to forage on the outer edges of branches, searching the undersides of needles and leaves for prey.

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Nest Placement


Magnolia Warblers nest in dense conifers such as spruce, balsam fir, and hemlock. The nest is typically on a horizontal branch close to the trunk of the tree and is less than 10 feet above the ground.

Nest Description

Males and females weave together a sloppy and flimsy-looking nest of grasses and weed stalks built on a foundation of twigs. They line the nest with horsehair fungus.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:3-5 eggs
Number of Broods:1-2 broods
Egg Length:0.6-0.7 in (1.5-1.8 cm)
Egg Width:0.4-0.5 in (1.1-1.3 cm)
Incubation Period:11-13 days
Nestling Period:8-10 days
Egg Description:White, with variable speckles or spots.
Condition at Hatching:Helpless with tufts of black down.
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Foliage Gleaner

Magnolia Warblers hop from branch to branch in dense stands of young conifer trees. They pick insects primarily from the undersides of conifer needles and foliage. Males sing most intensely at dawn and dusk and even sing while foraging. Males court females with song and show off the white spots on their tail, similar to the behavior of an American Redstart. To warn a territory intruder, males also spread their tail, flashing their white tail spots. Males and females maintain a shared territory on the breeding grounds, but separate territories on the wintering grounds. During migration they frequently join foraging flocks of chickadees, and they join mixed-species flocks on the wintering grounds.

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Low Concern

Magnolia Warblers are common, and their populations increased by nearly 1% per year from 1966 to 2019, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 39 million and rates them 8 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of low conservation concern. Magnolia Warblers, like many songbirds, are often the victim of collisions with tall buildings and TV towers during migration.

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Dunne, P. (2006). Pete Dunne's essential field guide companion. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, USA.

Dunn, Erica H. and George A. Hall. (2010). Magnolia Warbler (Setophaga magnolia), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

Partners in Flight. (2020). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2020.

Pieplow, N. (2017). Peterson Field Guide to Bird Sounds of Eastern North America. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, NY, USA.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2019). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2019. Version 2.07.2019. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

Stephenson, T. and S. Whittle (2013). The Warbler Guide. Princeton University Press, New Jersey, USA.

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