Living Bird Magazine
Swainson's WarblerLimnothlypis swainsonii
- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Parulidae
A heavyset warbler of southern swamps and forested ravines, the Swainson’s Warbler has a bold, ringing song but tends to remain frustratingly hidden in the understory. This brownish songbird isn’t as brilliantly colored as other warblers, but males have a subtle chestnut tone in the crown and sometimes a lemon-yellow wash below. The species forages mostly in dense vegetation on or near the ground, where it uses its hefty bill to turn over leaves in search of insects and spiders.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Look for Swainson’s Warblers in spring and summer in dense swamps and canebrakes of the southeastern U.S. They sing frequently near the beginning of the breeding season, from late March through late April, and less frequently the rest of the year. Males defend large territories and have favorite song perches. The best way to find the species is to listen and scan the woods patiently to spot a singing male. Song perches are sometimes fairly high up (15–20 feet) in small trees such as sassafras or holly.
- Reinita de Swainson (Spanish)
- Paruline de Swainson (French)
- Cool Facts
- Giant cane was once a widespread, abundant plant in the southeastern United States. Since colonial times, an estimated 99% of giant cane habitat has been cleared for agriculture and other development. This plant species is an important part of some of the habitats favored by Swainson’s Warblers, and some scientists have suggested that it was also important for the now-extinct Bachman’s Warbler.
- The Swainson's Warbler is commonly found in thickets of giant cane, and some researchers have suggested that the plant is essential for the species to nest. But the warbler also nests in lowland areas where cane is rare or absent. More important than the exact type of understory plants present is the presence of a thick understory with vine "tents" and tangles, and small shaded glades carpeted with leaf litter.
- John Abbot was the first naturalist to paint and describe the Swainson’s Warbler, in 1801, but John James Audubon named the bird in 1834. Audubon had received a specimen from Reverend John Bachman of Charleston, South Carolina, the year before and decided to name the bird in honor of his friend William Swainson. He gave it the scientific genus Limnothlypis, meaning “marsh finch” in Greek.
- Some Swainson's Warblers winter in the dry limestone forests of Jamaica. During the dry season some bird species have trouble finding food there. Because the Swainson's Warbler digs under the leaf litter for insects, it is less affected by dryness than birds foraging in the forest canopy or on the surface of the ground.
- The Swainson's Warbler flies directly from perch to perch instead of hopping through the branches like most warblers. It often flies directly across its territory, from one side to the other without stopping in between. On the ground it walks rapidly and rarely hops.
- The oldest recorded Swainson's Warbler was a male, and at least 9 years, 11 months old when he was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in South Carolina.