Identifying 11 more warblers made easy


The easy male warblers that I reviewed last week are recognizable by eye and ear to any birder. But going beyond that first level of warbler identification is like taking a graduate course in birding. So here, during birders’ favorite month, are some tips to help you move on to the next level.

Chestnut-sided warblers. Chestnut-sided warblers can be common in overgrown field and forest edges. Olive with black streaks above, chestnut-sided warblers are white below and have a bright yellow crown and distinctive chestnut sides. Its songs, which it songs from elevated perches is often described as “Please, please, pleased to MEET-cha.”

Black-throated blue warblers. Look for black-throated blue warblers in both deciduous and mixed woodlands. The white belly contrasts with this bird’s overall dark appearance. The throat and sides are black and the top of the bird is a very dark blue-gray. Another good field mark is a small white spot on each wing. It’s voice is a course, “Beer, beer, beer, bree.”

Blackburnian warblers. Blackburnian warblers prefer coniferous forests and often sing from the tree tops. In good light, this black and white bird shows a blaze orange throat. In fact, some field guides refer to it as the “fire throat.” Its throat is one of the brightest and most vibrant colors in the bird world. Its song is a very high pitched, inaudible to some, “zip, zip, zip, titi, tseeee.”

Pine warblers. Pine warblers prefer pine woods, and its voice is a high pitched trill reminiscent of a chipping sparrow though the pine warbler’s song is slower. Pine warblers are olive above, have prominent white wing bars, and a yellow breast.

Common yellowthroat. Though many warblers have yellow throats, and one is even named the common yellowthroat, it must not be confused with the yellow-throated warbler. Its plain gray back and bright yellow throat are excellent field marks as it perches to sing from the tops of sycamores along wooded streams. The song is a series of descending high pitched whistles.

American redstarts. American redstarts are very active tree top dwellers in deciduous woodlands. At first, a redstart suggests a miniature Baltimore oriole, but except for a white belly, the body is completely black. Male redstart’s distinguishing features are bright orange patches on the wings and tail. As they flit among the tree tops, these flashes of orange are eye-catching. Its song is a series of notes with the final note a bit higher pitched.

Cerulean warbler. Rather drab among a world of brightly colored species, the cerulean warbler is blue-gray above, white below, with a narrow black band across the chest. Look for ceruleans high in deciduous tree tops. Its song is a series of buzzy notes on a single pitch followed by a single higher note.

Worm-eating warbler. Another drab warbler of deciduous woods and hill sides, the worm-eating warbler is brown with a buffy chest, and black stripes marking a buffy head. It song is a very simple, insect-like trill.

Prothonotary warbler. The prothonotary warbler is the only cavity-nesting warbler in the east. It prefers wooded swamps and streams. The prothonotary’s head and chest is a rich golden yellowish-orange. The upper body and wings are unmarked blue-gray. Its voice is a monotone, “zweet, zweet, zweet, zweet.”

Kentucky warblers. Kentucky warblers skulk in dense undergrowth on deciduous forests and are often difficult to see. When they pop into view, note the yellow throat, chest and belly, olive back and wings, yellow spectacles, and black sideburns. Its song is a simple, “chorry, chorry, chorry.”

Hooded warbler. Another skulker found in wooded swamps and thickets, hooded warblers wear a black hood over a yellow face. A plain olive back and wings and bright yellow belly make identification relatively easy. The hooded warbler song is a loud, “weeta, weeta, wee-tee-o.”

For help mastering warbler songs and calls, a compilation of 310 songs and calls for 57 species of warblers is now available from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Macaulay Library — the largest archive of wildlife sounds in the world.

Originally released in 1985 as an LP record, Songs of the Warblers of North America is the most comprehensive audio guide to warblers available anywhere. The newly digitized version can be used on any device that plays MP3 files and is $14.99 at

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Scott Shalaway, who holds a Ph.D. in wildlife ecology from Michigan State University, writes from his home in rural West Virginia. A former faculty member at Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma Biological Station, he has been writing a weekly nature column for newspapers and freelancing for magazines since 1986. He can be heard on Birds & Nature from 3-4 p.m. Sunday afternoons on 620 KHB Radio, Pittsburgh, or live online anywhere at, or on the Tune-In radio app. Visit his website at or contact him directly at or 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.



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