16 Spring Warbler Birds You Should Know

Warbler birds are colorful and awe-inspiring, and tricky to find. Of more than 50 types of warblers in North America, these deserve special attention.

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.  We rounded up 16 types of warblers you might see this spring. But there are many more warbler bird species out there to spot, so make sure you keep your binoculars and field guides handy!

Common yellowthroat warbler on a branch.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 from mashes, and look for the male’s distinct black mask. Learn why birds sing in spring.

Magnolia warbler resting on spring flowering branch.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.

Redstart2bjpsept2013Johann 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. Their bold patterns and behaviors are impossible to miss. 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.

American redstarts stand out, not just for their brilliantly bright feathers but also for the way their feathers are used. Redstarts fan out their tails in a display thought to startle insect prey into the open. These birds can show up nearly anywhere in migration, with the exception of the far West, and they nest in parks and woodlots throughout most of North America.

Hooded warbler perched on branch in springBill 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. Check out the top warbler hotspots to visit in spring.

Yellow Warbler SingingJim Cumming/Getty Images

5. Yellow Warbler

It’s hard to miss the brilliantly colored yellow warbler. Step outside in summer and you might hear this whistled tune: Sweet, sweet, sweet, I’m so sweet. Yellows, our most widespread warbler, sing while nesting across much of the United States and Canada, especially in shrubland and woodland thickets. Females are pale lemon in color, while the males sport bold orange streaks along their chests. 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.

Wrblrblk Throatd Blu Male Vd Masl6694kSteve and Dave Maslowski

6. Black-Throated Blue Warbler

Warblers often sport yellow feathers, but the plumage of black-throated blue warblers would make a stunning prom ensemble. The formal black and white is accented with rich blues in males, white females show a blush of faint indigo. White patches in the wings remind many birders of pocket squares. Black-throated blue warblers thrive in the dense forest understory from the southern Appalachians to the Canadian Maritime Provinces and Quebec.

chestnut sided warblerCourtesy Evelyn Johnson

7. Chestnut-Sided Warbler

No other warbler bird sports this 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. Learn how to tell the difference between a yellow warbler vs  goldfinch.

Yellow-throated warbler singing in springDave 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. Learn how to identify palm warblers.

Prairie warbler sitting on flowering branchSteve 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. Learn more about prairie birds: the stunning species of the grasslands.

Black-throated green warbler singing in springJohn 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 types of warblers stay high in coniferous or mixed forests throughout summer in the northeast. They are “green” because both males and females have olive backs. 

Wrblryelowrmpd Suet Cd Masl5487Steve and Dave Maslowski

11. Yellow-Rumped Warbler

Most warbler bird species rely heavily on bugs. But yellow-rumped warblers are sometimes enticed to suet feeders. Some of the last to head south in fall, these warblers shift to eating berries in the southern states. They return north very early in spring migration as well. Try adding water features to the landscape to help lure these birds to your yard. Also look for pine warblers at suet feeders.

Black And White Warbler, Mniotilta VariaRolfNussbaumer.com

12. Black-and-White Warbler

The contrast of black-and-white warblers gives them a look of sophistication. Their methodical feeding style adds a touch of class. Black-and-white warblers mimic nuthatches by creeping along tree trunks and branches in search of invertebrate snacks. They’re widespread east of the Rockies, and a few show up in the West each year.

Blackpoll Warbler (dendroica Striata)Glenn Bartley

13. Blackpoll Warbler

Most types of warblers are long-distance migrants, but blackpolls take this to the extreme. Some of these songbirds summer in Alaska and winter in Brazil. Each weighs as much as a pen, yet in fall they complete epic journeys, flying nonstop from the eastern seaboard to northern South America. Blackpolls gorge on insects to build fat reserves to fuel their three-day trip. Learn how to identify a Tennessee warbler and a Nashville warbler.

Ovenbird W Young D 10169kSteve and Dave Maslowski

14. Ovenbird

Admittedly, ovenbirds don’t quite look the part. Their olive-brown backs are offset by streaks on their bellies. A splash of deep orange running along the tops of their heads gives each a racing stripe of color. Behaviorally, ovenbirds aren’t your typical warbler species, either. They spend their time foraging along the forest floor. They even build dome-shaped nests, for which they are named, directly on the ground. Learn how to identify a Wilson’s warbler: the warbler that wears a hat.

Wrblrkrtlnds Male Oak D 26573kSteve and Dave Maslowski

15. Kirtland’s Warbler

Only a few thousand Kirtland’s warblers are found in the world. The majority nests in jack pine forests in central Michigan, with populations expanding into Wisconsin and Ontario. Each year during migration, a few are spotted between their breeding ranges and their wintering habitats in the Bahamas. See amazing photos of rare yellow cardinals.

Townsendswarbler10bb 061717hrBob Kothenbeutel

16. Townsend’s Warbler

The West has less warbler bird diversity, but a number of species can be tracked down in the region. West of the Rocky Mountains, the stunning Townsend’s warbler is fairly common during migration. It breeds in the wet evergreen forests from Idaho to Alaska, and winters along the West Coast, inland in Arizona and Texas, and south into Mexico and Central America.

Next, learn to identify 15 types of hummingbirds found in the United States.

Ken Keffer
Nature writer Ken Keffer fondly remembers the spring duck migration in his native Wyoming, but now he gets most excited when irruptive finches, siskins and redpolls visit his feeders in Iowa.