Pine Warbler, Setophaga pinus

True to its name, the Pine Warbler is rarely found away from pines, except possibly during migration.  It forages in the middle and upper canopy slowly hopping along branches or hanging upside down while probing a cluster of needles.  This is the only warbler that regularly eats seeds.  It opens them by lodging the seed in a bark crevice and hammering it with its bill.   Pine Warblers will even visit bird feeders on occasion.

While the Pine Warbler's breeding range extends to southern Canada and the northeastern United States, it reaches its highest densities in the southeastern states.  In winter, northern breeders migrate to the southern states, northeastern Mexico, and the Caribbean where they often join mixed-species flocks.

In Tennessee, the distribution of this species is limited by the availability of mature pine forests. A few birds spend the winter in the state, but most birds are present only from early March through October.

Description: The Pine Warbler is large for a warbler. It has a yellow throat and chest, sides that are indistinctly streaked with gray, two white wing bars, a white belly, and an unstreaked olive-gray back. The females are only slightly duller than the males.

Length: 5.5"
Wingspan: 8.75"
Weight: 0.42 oz

Voice: The song is a rapid, somewhat musical trill. Male Pine Warblers will sing in all months of the year, although less frequently on cold winter days.

Similar Species:

  • Bay-breasted Warblers in non-breeding plumage have white chins, streaks on their backs, and usually have some rust color on the sides.
  • Blackpoll Warblers in non-breeding plumage have white or dull yellow chins, streaks on their backs, and bright yellowish legs and feet.
  • Yellow-throated Vireos are larger, have bright yellow "spectacles" around their eyes, have thicker bills, and no streaking on the sides. These two species are commonly confused in late summer or fall during migration.

Habitat: Pine Warblers are found in coniferous and mixed coniferous-deciduous forests. In Tennessee, they can be found in Virginia, shortleaf, loblolly, and sometimes white pines.

Diet: Primarily insects, but also some seeds and fruit.

Nesting and reproduction: The Pine Warbler starts nest building in mid-March, making it the earliest nesting warbler in Tennessee.

Clutch Size: Usually 4 eggs.

Incubation: It is estimated that incubation lasts 10 to 13 days

Fledging: It is estimated that the young fledge in about 10 days.

Nest: The female primarily builds the deep cup-nest from grass, pine needles, twigs, and strips of bark, lined with fine plant material, hair, and feathers. It is bound together and attached to the branch with a spider web. The nest is placed on a pine limb, usually in a cluster of needles. In Tennessee, nest heights range from 14 to 60 feet above the ground, with an average of 35 feet.

Status in Tennessee: The Pine Warbler is a fairly common migrant, and locally common summer resident in East and Middle Tennessee, and an uncommon migrant and summer resident in the West. Spring migration usually starts in early March and fall migration probably lasts into November. It is a rare but regular wintering bird in the state.

Fun Facts:

  • Pine Warblers from the northern parts of the breeding range join more southerly nesting birds during the winter. They form foraging flocks, sometimes numbering 50 to 100 individuals or more.
  • John James Audubon (1785-1851) labeled his painting of the Pine Warbler, the Pine Creeping Warbler.
  • The oldest known Pine Warbler in the wild was 6 years, 10 months old.

Obsolete English Names: pine creeping warbler

Best places to see in Tennessee: The Pine Warbler can be found in large stands of mature pines, primarily in East and Middle Tennessee.