10 Spring Warblers You Should Know

Go beyond the backyard to see warblers, the bright and colorful stars of spring migration.

Warblers are some of the most exciting birds to see during spring migration. These colorful spring birds leave their warm wintering grounds south of the border in Central and South America and migrate up to the norther parts of the country. Although warblers are tiny, their brightly colored feathers make them stand out as they flit from branch to branch, hunting insects.

There are over 50 species of warblers in the United States and Canada, but most warblers don’t visit backyards, because they aren’t feeder birds and typically stick to forested areas. So, birders have to go to where the warblers are and one of the best places to see a whole bunch of different warbler species in one day is the Biggest Week in America Birding, a 10-day festival in early May in northwest Ohio at Magee Marsh. Warblers love Magee Marsh, because it’s near the southern shore of Lake Erie. Warblers headed for Canada for the summer stop here to refuel and rest. Besides some truly excellent birding, there’s plenty more to do at Biggest Week, including presentations, socials and expert-led birding walks.

We rounded up 10 warbler species you might see this spring, but there are many more warbler species out there to spot, like prothonotary warblers and yellow-rumped warblers, so make sure you keep your binoculars and field guides handy! (Read more: 5 Tips for Spotting Warblers During Spring Migration)

photo credit: Steve and Dave Maslowski

1. Common Yellowthroat

It’s worth a visit to a marshy area for a quick look at common yellowthroats. Although they try to remain out of sight, they flit in and out of reeds and cattails. Listen for the wichity-wichity-wichity song, and look for the male’s distinct black mask.

photo credit: Marie Read

2. Magnolia Warbler

This easy-to-spot warbler spends time in low shrubs and small trees. During spring migration, magnolia warblers zip through the eastern half of the U.S. on the way to their breeding grounds in Canada and in northern states like Minnesota and Wisconsin.

photo credit: Johann Schumacher Design

3. American Redstart

Bright yellow plumage is common among warblers. But the male American redstart, covered in mostly black, breaks all the rules. Redstarts are among the most active warblers, showing off orange-red patches as they flit through trees. Be on the lookout for redstarts if you’re birding on eastern forest edges.

photo credit: Bill Leaman/The Image Finders

4. Hooded Warbler

Unlike many warblers, this species forages, and even nests, close to the ground. The male’s black hood around a yellow face helps with ID when he’s spotted in his ideal habitat—shady undergrowth in the southeast and northeast during summer breeding season.

photo credit: William Canosa (B&B reader)

5. Yellow Warbler

It’s hard to miss the brilliantly colored yellow warbler. One of the most common of the 50 warbler species, you won’t have to go deep into the forest to see one. Yellows can be found near open woods, streams, orchards and even roadsides.

photo credit: Johann Schumacher Design

6. Black-Throated Blue Warbler

The male’s dark colors reflect this bird’s favorite migration habitat: in the shadows of undergrowth in eastern woods. Females look completely different, with dull olive coloring.

photo credit: Larry Ditto/KAC Productions

7. Chestnut-Sided Warbler

No other warbler sports its unique color combination. An olive-yellow cap and rufous sides make the chestnut-sided a showstopper. It passes through the eastern U.S. during migration, so be on the lookout for this beauty on forest edges.

photo credit: Dave Welling

8. Yellow-Throated Warbler

The vibrant yellow throat is an important field mark. These warblers are early migrants and spend their summers in the southeastern U.S. They forage high in the canopy of swamp and pine forests.

photo credit: Steve and Dave Maslowski

9. Prairie Warbler

Don’t let the name fool you! These streaky-faced birds prefer dense thickets throughout the eastern U.S. Males have signature chestnut-colored marks on their backs. Females have similar, though subtler, markings.

photo credit: John Gill

10. Black-Throated Green Warbler

Listen for the male’s recognizable song, zoo, zee, zoo zoo zee, and then look up—way up! These birds stay high in coniferous or mixed forests throughout summer in the northeast. They are “green” because both males and females have olive backs.

Kirsten
Kirsten is the executive editor of Birds & Blooms. She's been with the brand in various roles since 2007. She has many favorite birds (it changes with the seasons), but top picks include the red-headed woodpecker, Baltimore oriole and rose-breasted grosbeak. Her bucket list bird is the painted bunting.