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Yellow-rumped Warbler

Setophaga coronata ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: PARULIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Yellow-rumped Warblers are impressive in the sheer numbers with which they flood the continent each fall. Shrubs and trees fill with the streaky brown-and-yellow birds and their distinctive, sharp chips. Though the color palette is subdued all winter, you owe it to yourself to seek these birds out on their spring migration or on their breeding grounds. Spring molt brings a transformation, leaving them a dazzling mix of bright yellow, charcoal gray and black, and bold white.

At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
4.7–5.5 in
12–14 cm
Wingspan
7.5–9.1 in
19–23 cm
Weight
0.4–0.5 oz
12–13 g
Relative Size
Large warbler; about the size of a Black-capped Chickadee
Other Names
  • Myrtle Warbler, Audubon's Warbler (part) (English)
  • Paruline à croupion jaune (French)
  • Chipe coronada (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • The Yellow-rumped Warbler is the only warbler able to digest the waxes found in bayberries and wax myrtles. Its ability to use these fruits allows it to winter farther north than other warblers, sometimes as far north as Newfoundland.
  • Male Yellow-rumped Warblers tend to forage higher in trees than females do.
  • Yellow-rumped Warblers are perhaps the most versatile foragers of all warblers. They're the warbler you're most likely to see fluttering out from a tree to catch a flying insect, and they're also quick to switch over to eating berries in fall. Other places Yellow-rumped Warblers have been spotted foraging include picking at insects on washed-up seaweed at the beach, skimming insects from the surface of rivers and the ocean, picking them out of spiderwebs, and grabbing them off piles of manure.
  • When Yellow-rumped Warblers find themselves foraging with other warbler species, they typically let Palm, Magnolia and Black-throated Green warblers do as they wish, but they assert themselves over Pine and Blackburnian warblers.
  • The oldest recorded Yellow-rumped Warbler was at least 7 years old.

Habitat


Forest

Yellow-rumped Warblers spend the breeding season in mature coniferous and mixed coniferous-deciduous woodlands (such as in patches of aspen, birch, or willow). In the western U.S. and in the central Appalachian mountains, they are found mostly in mountainous areas. In the Pacific Northwest and the Northeast, they occur all the way down to sea level wherever conifers are present. During winter, Yellow-rumped Warblers find open areas with fruiting shrubs or scattered trees, such as parks, streamside woodlands, open pine and pine-oak forest, dunes (where bayberries are common), and residential areas. On their tropical wintering grounds they live in mangroves, thorn scrub, pine-oak-fir forests, and shade coffee plantations.

Food


Insects

Yellow-rumped Warblers eat mainly insects in the summer, including caterpillars and other larvae, leaf beetles, bark beetles, weevils, ants, scale insects, aphids, grasshoppers, caddisflies, craneflies, and gnats, as well as spiders. They also eat spruce budworm, a serious forest pest, during outbreaks. On migration and in winter they eat great numbers of fruits, particularly bayberry and wax myrtle, which their digestive systems are uniquely suited among warblers to digest. The habit is one reason why Yellow-rumped Warblers winter so much farther north than other warbler species. Other commonly eaten fruits include juniper berries, poison ivy, poison oak, greenbrier, grapes, Virginia creeper, and dogwood. They eat wild seeds such as from beach grasses and goldenrod, and they may come to feeders, where they'll take sunflower seeds, raisins, peanut butter, and suet. On their wintering grounds in Mexico they've been seen sipping the sweet honeydew liquid excreted by aphids.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
1–6 eggs
Number of Broods
1-2 broods
Egg Length
0.7–0.8 in
1.7–2.1 cm
Egg Width
0.5–0.6 in
1.3–1.5 cm
Incubation Period
12–13 days
Nestling Period
10–14 days
Egg Description
White, speckled with brown, reddish-brown, gray, or purplish gray.
Condition at Hatching
Helpless and naked with sparse brown down. Eyelids have dull white spots.
Nest Description

Females build the nest, sometimes using material the male carries to her. The nest is a cup of twigs, pine needles, grasses, and rootlets. She may also use moose, horse, and deer hair, moss, and lichens. She lines this cup with fine hair and feathers, sometimes woven into the nest in such a way that they curl up and over the eggs. The nest takes about 10 days to build. It's 3-4 inches across and about 2 inches tall when finished.

Nest Placement

Tree

Yellow-rumped Warblers put their nests on the horizontal branch of a conifer, anywhere from 4 to about 50 feet high. Tree species include hemlock, spruce, white cedar, pine, Douglas-fir, and larch or tamarack. They may build their nests far out on a main branch or tuck it close to the trunk in a secure fork of two or more branches. Occasionally nest are built in a deciduous tree such as a maple, oak, or birch.

Behavior


Foliage Gleaner

Yellow-rumped Warblers flit through the canopies of coniferous trees as they forage. They cling to the bark surface to look for hidden insects more than many warblers do, but they also frequently sit on exposed branches and catch passing insects like a flycatcher does. In winter, Yellow-rumped Warblers join flocks and switch to eating berries from fruiting shrubs. Sometimes the flocks are enormous groups consisting entirely of Yellow-rumped Warblers. If another bird gets too close, Yellow-rumped Warblers indicate the infraction by holding the body horizontally, fanning the tail, and raising it to form a right angle with its body. When males court females, they fluff their feathers, raise their wings and the feathers of the crown, and hop from perch to perch, chipping. They may also make display flights in which they glide back and forth or fly slowly with exaggerated wingbeats. The Yellow-rumped Warbler's flight is agile and swift, and the birds often call as they change direction.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Yellow-rumped Warblers are common and widespread, and populations are generally stable though they experienced a small decline from 1966 to 2015, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 130 million with 58% spending some part of the year in the U.S., 71% in Canada, and 31% wintering in Mexico. The species rates a 6 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and are not on the 2016 State of North America's Birds' Watch List. Migrating Yellow-rumped Warblers, like many migrants, are frequently killed in collisions with radio towers, buildings, and other obstructions.

Credits

  • Hunt, P. D., and D. J. Flaspohler. 1998. Yellow-rumped Warbler (Dendroica coronata). In The Birds of North America, No. 376 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America Online, Ithaca, New York.
  • Dunne, P. 2006. Pete Dunne’s essential field guide companion. Houghton Mifflin, Boston.
  • Dunn, J. L., and Garrett, K. L. 1997. A Field Guide to Warblers of North America. Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston.
  • Ehrlich, P. R., D. S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1988. The birder’s handbook. Simon & Schuster Inc., New York.
  • North American Bird Conservation Initiative. 2016. The State of North America’s Birds 2016. Environment and Climate Change Canada: Ottawa, Ontario.
  • Partners in Flight. 2012. Species assessment database.
  • Sauer, J.R., J.E. Hines, J.E. Fallon, K.L. Pardieck, D.J. Ziolkowski, Jr., and W.A. Link. 2016. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2015, Version 01.30.2015. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD.
  • Sibley, D.A. 2000. The Sibley guide to birds. Alfred A Knopf, New York.

Range Map Help

Yellow-rumped Warbler Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Migration

Short to long-distance migrant. Some western Yellow-rumped Warblers move to the nearby Pacific Coast to spend the winter. Other populations migrate to wintering grounds in Mexico and throughout Central America.

Backyard Tips

Yellow-rumped Warblers winter across much of central and southeastern U.S., and they sometimes come to backyards if food is offered. To attract them, try putting out sunflower seed, raisins, suet, and peanut butter. Find out more about what this bird likes to eat by using the Project FeederWatch Common Feeder Birds bird list.

Find This Bird

Visit the north woods or middle elevation conifer forests of the West to find Yellow-rumped Warblers during summer. They're often perched on the outer limbs of trees and are very conspicuous as they fly out after insects, often making long, aerobatic pursuits and flashing their yellow rumps and white patches in the tail. But the easiest time to see Yellow-rumped Warblers is probably on migration, when hordes of Yellow-rumped Warblers sweep down the continent, particularly along the Eastern Seaboard, where wax myrtles are abundant.

Get Involved

Keep track of any Yellow-rumped Warblers that visit your feeder from November through early April with Project FeederWatch

Record your warbler sightings online with eBird for your personal records – and for the birding community

Enhance your yard to attract warblers and other birds. Find out more about creating bird friendly habitat on All About Birds.

You Might Also Like

Species Abundance Map: Yellow-rumped Warbler, The State of North America’s Birds 2016.

Yellow-rumped Warbler from Bent's Life Histories of North American Birds (1953)

Yellow-rumped Warbler: This Bird is Bound to Berry, Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, November 15, 1997.

Like Chasing Tornadoes: The Fun And Challenge Of Mixed Species Flocks, Living Bird, Autumn 2014.

The New Birds Of Winter, All About Birds, February 5, 2015.

How To Listen To Bird Song—Tips And Examples From The Warbler Guide, All About Birds, May 1, 2015.

When Does A Songbird Migrate? Depends On What It Eats, All About Birds, October 15, 2015.

Spruce-Woods Warblers Revisited: 60 Years Later, the Cast of Characters Has Changed, Living Bird, Summer 2016.

Why Fly With Extra Weight? Migrating Warblers Use Leftover Fat To Fuel Breeding Season, All About Birds, June 10, 2016.

Goodbye, Yellow-Rump: Will We See A Return To Myrtle And Audubon’s Warblers?, Living Bird, Autumn 2016.

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