May 19, 2021 | Featured in: Watching Backyard Birds, April 2021

Yellow Warbler Tidbits

Yellow warblers eat insects, so they don’t visit bird feeders, but they nest in brushy areas, including backyards.

One of the most widely distributed warblers in North America, the yellow warbler is sweet-sweet-sweeter-than-sweet in its unmistakable red-streaked yellow plumage. If you know when to look, you might even see one in your own backyard! Here are some interesting tidbits about these the lives and behavior of these birds.

  • Males have chestnut-red streaks on the breast; females are duller yellow with pale streaking or none at all.
  • The basic song is often transcribed as sweet-sweet-sweeter-than-sweet, but males also sing various other songs, too, some of which resemble those of magnolia or chestnut-sided warblers, or American redstart.
  • Yellow warblers are insectivores and not tempted by bird feeders. They forage in vegetation from close to the ground up to tree tops in search of insects, caterpillars, and spiders, gleaning food from twigs and foliage. Sometimes they catch insects in air.
  • In the East, nests are usually less than 12 feet above the ground, but in the West, yellow warbler nests have been found up to 60 feet high in sycamores and cottonwoods.
  • The female alone builds a tidy, tightly woven cup-shaped nest of grasses in a bed of plant down, and lines it with hair, cotton, or more plant down.
  • Cowbirds frequently "dump" their eggs in yellow warbler nests; if there are no warbler eggs present yet, the female warbler will build a new nest lining on top of the egg, effectively burying it, and then start her own brood. As many as 11 buried cowbird eggs have been found in successively stacked "basement" levels of yellow warbler nests!
  • Four or five eggs are laid, after which the female alone incubates them for about 11 days. Both parents feed the nestlings with various butterfly and moth larvae, spiders, and insects. Barring disaster in the form of chipmunks, corvids, snakes, or other predators, little warblers will leave the nest between 9 and 12 days after hatching.

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