Meet the Cerulean Warbler: Sky Blue Beauty

Learn what a cerulean warbler looks like and how to identify this tiny blue bird. Also learn about their range and how to find them.

Cerulean Warbler maleStan Tekiela Author / Naturalist / Wildlife Photographer/Getty Images
Cerulean warbler in southern Minnesota

Some birds like robins, goldfinches and cardinals are frequently sighted in backyards across America. Other bird species are much more uncommon, and a brief glimpse of them can thrill birders for life. One of these birds is the cerulean warbler.

Ann and Bill Toneff have been birding together since 1965. “We love traveling and have seen some pretty amazing birds along the way. Together, we’ve counted 344 birds in Ohio,” Bill says.

Bill recalls that he’ll never forget the first time he looked through a pair of his binoculars and saw an indigo bunting. “This dark, common blob suddenly turned into this gorgeous blue bird, and I was hooked.”

For Ann, another blue feathered friend was her spark bird. “Ann caught the bug once she saw her first cerulean warbler,” Bill says.

Discover 16 spring warblers you should know.

What Does a Cerulean Warbler Look Like?

Couypc20 Phyllis TerchanikCourtesy Phyllis Terchanik

According to the Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America, an adult male cerulean warbler is the only tiny bird with a blue back, white throat and a black necklace. Females and juvenile birds have duller coloring, with sharp white wing bars and a pale eyebrow. Look for hint of blue on their back.

“I’ve been birding for quite some time now and have always wanted to see a cerulean warbler. After many years of searching, I finally found one (above) this spring in Pennsylvania. The beautiful little bird is my favorite warbler,” says Phyllis Terchanik.

Learn about black-throated blue (and green!) warblers.

Range

Couypc20 Stephon Sterns 005Courtesy Stephon Sterns

This species winters in South America and passes through the eastern states during migration. They breed as far north as Wisconsin, Michigan and New York.

“The early morning light touches the beautiful light blue colors of the cerulean warbler in all the right ways. I feel very fortunate to have been able to photograph this beautiful bird (above) the last two years. I am thankful Shenandoah National Park offers me a great opportunity to see and capture images of these birds,” says Birds & Blooms reader Stephon M. Sterns.

Don’t miss these breathtaking Blackburnian warbler photos.

Where to Find a Cerulean Warbler

You’ll need a good pair of binoculars and will probably get a stiff case of warbler neck from straining to see a cerulean warbler. These tiny birds can be very hard to spot among the leaves on tall treetops. Numbers of this species are declining, so take extra care not to disturb them during nesting season.

One of the best chances to see a cerulean warbler and other colorful spring birds is during the Biggest Week in American Birding in northwest Ohio. During this annual event, held in May at the Black Swamp Bird Observatory near the shores of Lake Erie, flocks of migrating warblers stop over as they travel north toward their breeding grounds. The boardwalk at Magee Marsh, near Oak Harbor, runs through a patch of woods where more than 30 warbler species, including cerulean and blackpoll, flit through the trees.

Next, check out the top warbler hotspots to visit in spring.

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Lori Vanover
Lori Vanover is the senior digital editor for Birds & Blooms. She has a bachelor's degree in agricultural and environmental communications from the University of Illinois. Lori enjoys growing vegetables and flowers for pollinators in her backyard gardens. She also is an avid bird-watcher.