Hooded Warbler

Setophaga citrina

The Hooded Warbler is a rather difficult bird to see because its preferred habitat is thick, shrubby forest undergrowth.  It is found across the state from mid-April to mid-October but is common only in the uplands of East Tennessee.

This bird breeds primarily in the southeastern United States.  In winter it travels to Central America and the Caribbean Islands, where males and females defend separate territories in different types of habitats.

Description: Adult males are plain olive-green above, bright yellow below, and have a black hood surrounding a yellow face; some females have some black hood markings, but in general are olive-green on the top of the head and have no hood.  Both sexes have white spots on the outer tail feathers that are visible in flight, and both maintain the same appearance year round.

Length: 5"
Wingspan: 7"
Weight: 0.4 oz.

Voice: The Hooded Warbler has two common songs; both are loud, musical, and somewhat slurred. One song is often described as wheeta wheeta wheeteeo, and the other I want to rent a video?.

Similar Species:

  • Kentucky Warblers inhabit similar habitats, are olive-green above and yellow below, but do not have a black hood or white spots in the tail.
  • Common Yellowthroat males are also olive-green above and yellow below, but have a broad black mask through the eye.

Habitat: In East Tennessee, Hooded Warblers are found in large mature forest tracts with a thick understory of laurel, blueberry, or rhododendron. In West Tennessee, they are found in moist bottomland forests and ravines, also with a thick understory.

Diet: Insects and small spiders.

Nesting and reproduction: Hooded Warblers may occasionally raise two broods in Tennessee, and are a common host for Brown-headed Cowbirds.

Clutch Size: Commonly 4 eggs, with a range of 3 to 5.

Incubation: The female incubates the eggs for 12 days. The male supplies her and the young with nearly all of their food.

Fledging: Young leave the nest about 9 days after hatching and are tended by both adults.

Nest: The nest is well hidden and constructed of grass, dead leaves, and strips of bark, and held together with spider webs. Nests are typically lower than 4 feet in small shrubs or saplings.

Status in Tennessee: The Hooded Warbler is a common summer resident in East Tennessee and uncommon elsewhere in the state. It usually arrives in mid-April and departs by mid-October. In Tennessee, populations appear to be increasing.

Fun Facts:

  • In some areas of Tennessee, the Hooded Warbler is one of the most numerous breeding birds. A census plot in the Cumberland Mountains found a density of 6.3 pairs per 10 acres in a maple-gum-hickory forest in the 1970s.
  • On the wintering grounds in Central America, Hooded Warblers are territorial and males and females occupy different habitats; males are found in mature forest, while females use drier, scrubbier forest and seasonally flooded areas. If a male is removed from his territory, a female in adjacent scrub will not move into his territory.
  • Recent research has found that while male Hooded Warblers defend territories with a single mate, the female will also breed with neighboring males. DNA reveals that about one-third of females have young that are fathered by her mate. "Extra-pair matings" like this are actually not uncommon among most long-distance migratory songbirds.

Best places to see in Tennessee: Hooded Warblers are found in mature forest, but especially in the eastern half of the state.