ID Tips for Fall Blackpoll and Bay-breasted Warblers

Fall warblers can be very confusing especially when you see species that look so similar such as Blackpoll and Bay-breasted.

Everyone loves seeing all the beautiful warblers in their breeding colors in the spring but, seeing them in the fall can be just as much fun. The only trouble can be that some of the birds will cause more of an identification challenge during this time of year. One of the most common challenges is deciding if you’ve seen a Blackpoll or a Bay-breasted Warbler. Although you would never mistake these two species in the spring, it can be quite easy to do in the fall.

Here are a few tips to help you with your identification.

Blackpoll Warbler

Both species are yellowish overall and have two white wingbars so those features aren’t going to be very helpful. On the Blackpoll, look for very light and blurry dark streaking on the sides and across the breast. Also, if you can get a look at the legs and feet and they have any yellow on them, you have a Blackpoll. To learn about the incredible migration pattern of the Blackpoll, see my article on Amazing Migrations.

ID Tips for Fall Blackpoll and Bay-breasted Warblers©Brian Zwiebel
©Brian Zwiebel Notice how the yellow legs stand out in good light.

Bay-breasted Warbler

Unlike the Blackpoll, the Bay-breasted Warbler doesn’t show much streaking at all. Instead, many times it will show a slightly creamy or buffy color. Some individuals will even show a hint of the bay color they are named for. Also note that this species has entirely black/gray legs and feet.

ID Tips for Fall Blackpoll and Bay-breasted Warblers@Brian Zwiebel
@Brian Zwiebel It’s amazing how similar these two warblers can appear.

Have you seen these warblers near you?

Rob Ripma
Rob Ripma, a lifelong Indiana resident, has traveled and birded extensively throughout the Americas.