Living Bird Magazine
Black-and-white WarblerMniotilta varia
- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Parulidae
One of the earliest-arriving migrant warblers, the Black-and-white Warbler’s thin, squeaky song is one of the first signs that spring birding has sprung. This crisply striped bundle of black and white feathers creeps along tree trunks and branches like a nimble nuthatch, probing the bark for insects with its slightly downcurved bill. Though you typically see these birds only in trees, they build their little cup-shaped nests in the leaf litter of forests across central and eastern North America.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Black-and-white Warblers are fairly common and often intent on foraging along tree limbs, so they don’t tend to be shy. Watch for them creeping fairly rapidly on, around, and under larger branches of taller trees. Black-and-white Warblers are also quite vocal. Their song is thin, almost squeaky, but penetrating, so it’s a good way to find them. Watch for them during migration (especially early in the season): at least one or two are typically found in any reasonably good arrival of migrant warblers.
- Reinita Trepadora (Spanish)
- Paruline noir et blanc (French)
- Cool Facts
- The Black-and-white Warbler is the only member of the genus Mniotilta. The genus name means “moss-plucking,” a reference to its habit of probing bark and moss for insects.
- Black-and-white Warblers have an extra-long hind claw and heavier legs than other wood-warblers, which help them hold onto and move around on bark.
- As warblers go, Black-and-white Warblers are combative: they’ll attack and fight with other species that enter their territory, including Black-capped Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches, and American Redstarts. This aggressive behavior extends to the wintering grounds, where they defend territories and when feeding in mixed flocks will drive other Black-and-white Warblers away.
- The oldest known Black-and-white Warbler was 11 years, 3 months old—a female that was banded in North Carolina in the 1950s and recovered in Pennsylvania more than a decade later.