Yellow-rumped Warbler

Setophaga coronata

The Yellow-rumped Warbler is one of the most common warblers in North America and the only warbler to regularly winter in Tennessee.  It generally arrives in the state in late September and departs by mid-May.

A couple of other warblers that migrate through the state have yellow rumps, but none of those rumps are as conspicuous.  This distinctive yellow rump-patch has led birdwatchers to give it the affectionate name "butter-butt".

The broad breeding range of this bird stretches from Alaska south to Guatemala and east to the northeastern United States.  It is often abundant in winter in the southern United States, and travels as far as Mexico and the western Caribbean.  In Tennessee, it is commonly found in foraging flocks with Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmice.

Description: This small songbird gets its name from the bright yellow rump-patch that both sexes possess year round.  During the non-breeding season, when Yellow-rumped Warblers are present in Tennessee, both the male and female are overall brown with two white wing-bars and a yellow patch on the sides of the breast.

Breeding plumage, which many birds will acquire before departing in the spring, is quite different. The eastern "Myrtle" form has dark-streaked gray upperparts, white wing-bars, a dark cheek-patch, white underparts with dark streaking on the chest, and yellow patches on the sides of the breast. The female is duller than the male. 

Length: 5.5"
Wingspan: 9.25
Weight: 0.43 oz

Voice: The song is variable and is not likely to be heard in Tennessee until late winter. It consists of a loose 2-part trill, the second part being slightly lower pitched than the first. The call note is a very distinct check.

Similar Species:

  • Two other warbler species with yellow rumps migrate through Tennessee: the Magnolia Warbler and Cape May Warbler. Both species have yellow underparts in spring and often in the fall, and neither species has a rump as bright yellow as the Yellow-rumped Warbler.

Habitat: During the nonbreeding season, this warbler is found in almost any habitat and expands its diet to include a substantial amount of fruit.

Diet: Insects and some fruit.

Status in Tennessee: This warbler is a common migrant, and a fairly common winter resident across the state from October through April.

Dynamic map of Yellow-rumped Warbler eBird observations in Tennessee

Fun Facts:

  • Until 1973 the Yellow-rumped Warbler was considered two species: the Myrtle Warbler in the East, and Audubon's Warbler in the West. Myrtle and Audubon's Warblers hybridize in the southern Canadian Rockies and based on this and DNA evidence, the two were combined into a single species.
  • The Yellow-rumped Warbler is the only warbler able to digest the waxy coats on bayberries and wax myrtles. Its ability to digest these fruits allows it to winter farther north than all other warblers.

Obsolete English Names: myrtle warbler

Best places to see in Tennessee: Can be found in mixed species foraging flocks in woodlands throughout the state from October through April.