Yellow Warbler

Dendroica petechia

The Yellow Warbler is the most yellow of all the warblers. Its song, often described as sweet-sweet-sweet, a little more sweet, may be heard in shrubby habitat and forest edges anywhere in the state during spring migration, and during the breeding season, in Middle and East Tennessee.

The range of the subspecies that breeds in Tennessee extends from western Alaska to eastern Canada and southward to the middle of the United States. These birds will winter from Mexico to northern South America.

Description: This yellow bird has a bright black eye surrounded by an indistinct yellow eye-ring and yellow tail-spots. The male is bright yellow with reddish streaks on chest. The adult female is duller, usually without the red streaks, and the first-year female can be very dull and a challenge to identify. 

Length: 5"
Wingspan: 8"
Weight: 0.33 oz

Voice: Often described as sweet-sweet-sweet, a little more sweet.

Similar Species:

  • The Yellow Warbler is the only warbler with yellow tail-spots.
  • Female and first-year Yellow Warblers are easily confused with female and first-year Hooded and Wilson's Warblers. Yellow Warblers always have yellow edging on the wing feathers and yellow tail-spots.
  • Palm Warblers are the only other warbler with red streaks on the chest, but they have a rusty cap, a dark eye-stripe, and the habitat of bobbing their tail. Palm Warblers are present in Tennessee only during migration.
  • Orange-crowned Warblers have a dark eye-line, broken eye-ring, and no tail-spots. They are present in Tennessee only during migration.
  • The Yellow Warbler may sing songs that are very similar to those of the Chestnut-sided Warbler.

Habitat: In Tennessee the Yellow Warbler is usually found in moist shrubby thickets, frequently with willow, and usually adjoining streams and lakes. Willows are a common feature in breeding territories in North America.

Diet: Primarily insects, but occasionally fruit.

Nesting and reproduction: Yellow Warblers are usually monogamous, but males with two mates have been recorded.

Clutch Size: Usually 4 to 5 eggs.

Incubation: The female, occasionally fed by the male, incubates the eggs for 10 to 14 days.

Fledging: Both parents feed the young, which fledge 8 to 10 days.

Nest: The female builds the nest in about 4 days. It is a deep cup made of grasses and bark, lined with finer material, and covered on the outside with plant down and fine fibers. It is typically placed in the upright fork of a shrub or tree. In Tennessee, nest heights range from 4 to 16 feet above the ground, with an average of 10.5 feet.

Status in Tennessee: During migration, the Yellow Warbler can be found across the state. During the breeding season, it is a fairly common resident in East and Middle Tennessee and rare in the western portion of the state. It arrives in early April and most depart by the end of August. The Yellow Warbler is declining in the state likely due to loss of habitat to development and reforestation of shrubby breeding habitat.

Dynamic map of Yellow Warbler eBird observations in Tennessee

Fun Facts:

  • The oldest known Yellow Warbler in the wild was 10 years, 11 months old.
  • Brown-headed Cowbirds will often lay eggs in the nests of Yellow Warblers. Unlike many bird species, Yellow Warblers are able to recognize the foreign eggs and will either abandon the nest or bury the eggs, including their own, under a new nest lining.
  • In Latin America, Yellow Warblers usually nest in mangroves. Males in these populations often have chestnut caps or even chestnut covering the entire head.
  • Recent DNA-based studies found that Yellow Warblers are closely related to Chestnut-sided Warblers and may explain why Yellow Warblers regularly sing songs nearly identical to those of the Chestnut-sided Warbler.

Obsolete English Names: wild canary, golden warbler, summer warbler, yellow-poll wood-warbler

Best places to see in Tennessee: In migration Yellow Warblers are found in scrubby fields, open forests, and edges of waterways statewide. In the breeding season, they can be found in Middle and East Tennessee in shrubby habitats especially where there are permanent streams.