Look For a Chestnut Sided Warbler During Spring Migration

Discover facts about the chestnut sided warbler, including where to find the birds, migration patterns and what males and females look like.

What Does a Chestnut Sided Warbler Look Like?

window strikes©Rob Ripma

The chestnut sided warbler has a unique appearance that sets it apart. Males’ olive yellow caps and rufous sides make them distinct from the other birds in their species. Other trademarks to look out for include a white breast, and gray and yellow markings along the wings and back.

Female Chestnut-sided Warbler in Spring - Ontario, CanadaBrianLasenby/Getty Images
Female chestnut sided warbler in Ontario, Canada

During breeding season, females resemble males but appear muted in color. During the non-breeding season, males keep the rufous sides while females and immature birds do not.

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Range and Migration

These unique warblers pass through the eastern United States as they migrate from winter homes in Central America to northern breeding grounds. However, unlike the Cape May warbler, the chestnut-sided’s breeding range extends into the U.S. Birders in the Northeast, as well as the northern Midwestern states, might be able to spot them at forest edges.

John James Audubon said he had seen only five chestnut sided warblers in his lifetime, but they are more common now.

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What Do Chestnut Sided Warblers Eat?

Like many warbler species, this bird hovers underneath a leaf to grab a caterpillar or sallies out from a branch to snatch an insect.

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Chestnut Sided Warbler Photos

252596376 1 Jocelyn Anderson Bnb Bypc2020Courtesy Jocelyn Anderson

Stunning Spring Warbler

“I have been doing bird photography for a few years, but I only discovered the wonder of warblers in the last year. One spring day I was at a local park in southeastern Michigan, and I was amazed by these stunning feathered gems that flitted about in the bushes and trees. These warblers were migrating north and had stopped for the day at this park. One of my favorites was this chestnut sided warbler with his smart yellow cap and richly colored brown sides,” Jocelyn Anderson says.

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09 Jimknox Bbxjuly19Courtesy Jim Knox

Juvenile Warbler

“I love to photograph wildlife. Someone told me about an area that was home to a family of foxes, so I set up a blind to shoot from. I had no luck and was ready to take a break when something flew past my little window. I had no idea what it was but felt I ought to get some photos of it, and turns out it was an immature chestnut sided warbler (above)! So glad I didn’t take that break,” Jim Knox says.

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Bnbbyc17 Evelyn Johnson 17, chestnut sided warbler, maleCourtesy Evelyn Johnson

A Special Lifer

“Photography is my and my husband’s longtime hobby. Spring migration featured many lifers for us, including this male chestnut-sided warbler. We took this photo at Whitnall Park in Franklin, Wisconsin, where several species of warblers hopped merrily along. Right place at the right time was the key!” Evelyn Johnson says.

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chestnut sided warblerCourtesy Mikki Peterick

Bird Talk

One spring, I spent about 20 minutes trying to take a picture of this chestnut sided warbler. I tried and tried, but couldn’t seem to get a good shot. Just when I was about to give up, I said, ‘Little bird! Come here, so I can take your picture.’ As if on cue, the bird flew right then and landed within five feet of me! I was so excited that the warbler did what I asked that I almost missed my shot!” says Mikki Peterick.

Next, learn all about black-throated blue (and green!) warblers.

Emily Hannemann
Emily Hannemann is an associate editor for Birds & Blooms Digital. Throughout her years with the publication, she has written multiple articles for print as well as digital, all covering birding and gardening. In her role as associate editor, she is responsible for creating and editing articles on the subject of birding and gardening, as well as putting together Birds & Bloom's daily digital newsletter. After graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a master's degree in magazine journalism and undergraduate degrees in journalism and English, she has more than eight years of experience in the magazine, newspaper, and book industries.