Wilson’s Warbler: The Warbler That Wears a Hat

This Wilson's warbler, a small yellow colored songbird, has a special feature that makes it easy to identify—a black cap on top of its head!

wilson's warblerCourtesy Dennis Rashe
A Wilson’s warbler has a small black cap on its head

What Does a Wilson’s Warbler Look Like?

“Wilson wears a hat.” That’s the saying I made up to help me identify male Wilson’s warblers. Before my first trip to The Biggest Week in American Birding festival in northwest Ohio, I tried really hard to brush up on my warbler ID skills. As I studied the Wilson’s, I noticed that the black patch on the top of its head looks like a cute little hat. And ever since, that simple saying helps me remember it. Discover the top warbler hotspots to visit in spring.

A Wilson’s warbler is easy to identify with its lemon yellow body and that black cap. It hangs out in lower levels of vegetation, picking caterpillars and insects from the leaves and branches.

Dennis Rashe recalls the exciting moment when he photographed this species. “I managed to capture a Wilson’s warbler trying to bring home a meal to its offspring. There were four mouths to be filled.”

Check out 10 spring warblers you should know.

Wilson’s Warbler Migration

Much more common in the West but found nationwide during migration, this warbler breeds in Canada and the western U.S., typically in shrubby areas near streams. It’s one of the last migrating warblers to arrive. Anyone living in the Lower 48 has a shot at seeing them during spring and fall migration—they pass through every state in the contiguous U.S.

Want to spot more warblers? Check out warbler migration tips for every type of birder.

Wilson’s Warbler Name

Five North American birds—warbler, snipe, plover, storm-petrel and phalarope—are named after renowned ornithologist Alexander Wilson. When he first sketched and spotted the Wilson’s warbler more than 200 years ago, he called it a green black-capt flycatcher.

Next, learn about yellow warblers, black-and-white warblers, palm warblers and magnolia warblers.

Kirsten Schrader
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.