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Prairie Warbler Life History


ScrubThe Prairie Warbler breeds in shrubby habitats with open canopies, ranging from pine forests, scrub oak barrens, regenerating forests, and borders of forest and prairie. In recent times, Christmas tree farms and strip-mine soil ridges have attracted the species. The Florida subspecies inhabits mangrove forests.Back to top


InsectsThe Prairie Warbler eats small insects, spiders, and mollusks (snails). Occasionally it consumes fruit and other plant matter. Back to top


Nest Placement

ShrubPrairie Warblers place their nests in tangled parts of trees and shrubs, 3–7 feet from the ground.

Nest Description

The Prairie Warbler nest is a shaggy cup with two layers. The outer layer consists of short pieces of plant fibers and leaves, and the inner lining consists of plant down, feathers, and fur.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:3-5 eggs
Number of Broods:1-2 broods
Egg Length:0.6-0.7 in (1.4-1.8 cm)
Egg Width:0.4-0.5 in (1.1-1.3 cm)
Incubation Period:10-15 days
Nestling Period:8-11 days
Egg Description:Pale brownish or gray, often with a ring of spots near one end and more spots scattered over the rest of the shell.
Condition at Hatching:Helpless, with some gray down.
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Foliage GleanerThe Prairie Warbler is an active species, picking invertebrate prey from branches and leaves while bobbing its tail. Males on breeding grounds sing avidly from the highest treetops in their territory upon arriving in the spring. The Prairie Warbler sings two songs, one directed at females for courtship and another directed at males for establishment and maintenance of territorial boundaries. When an unmated female moves toward a singing male, he flies to her with slow, stiff wingbeats. The female then initiates copulation by leaning forward and slightly shaking the tail. Prairie Warbler pairs are socially monogamous; extra-pair mating does occur when males leave their territories and approach neighboring mated females. The Prairie Warbler is mostly solitary in the breeding season but does associate with mixed-species flocks in migration and through the winter. Back to top



Prairie Warbler is declining throughout most of its range. The North American Breeding Bird Survey estimates a loss of almost 2% per year between 1966 and 2015, resulting in a cumulative decline of 63% during that time. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 3.6 million individuals. They rate the species a 14 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, placing it on the Yellow Watch List for species with declining populations. If the current rate of decline continues, Prairie Warbler will lose another half of its population in 70 years. Since colonial times, deforestation has created a great deal of habitat for Prairie Warblers, but much of this is now being lost as towns expand and Eastern forests regrow.

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

Nolan Jr, V., E. D. Ketterson and C. A. Buerkle. (2014). Prairie Warbler (Setophaga discolor), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

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

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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Learn more at Birds of the World