Yellow-Rumped Warblers: Meet the Butterbutts
Learn what a yellow-rumped warbler looks like, how to identify them, what they eat, when they migrate, and why they're nicknamed butterbutts.
Identify Yellow-Rumped Warblers: Myrtle and Audubon
North America boasts more than 50 species of warblers; this one is probably the most abundant. Their population may be as high as 130 million. The male yellow-rumped warbler has a trademark lemon-colored rump patch (hence the nickname butterbutts), yellow shoulders and a yellow cap. Females have duller colors. There are four forms, all with distinct appearances. Look for myrtles in the East and far North and Audubon’s in the West. The other two forms live in Mexico and Guatemala. On the myrtles, note the contrast of the brown cheek patch, white throat and striped chest. Audubon’s have a yellow throat.
Discover more of the most common birds found in North America.
What Do Yellow-Rumped Warblers Eat?
This warbler owes its success to myrtle berries (Myrtus), including bayberry and other native shrubs. Unlike nearly every other bird that eats berries—bluebirds, thrushes, robins, waxwings and more —yellow-rumps, once called myrtle warblers, can digest the waxy coating, transforming it into fat that helps them survive the cold. They also eat the berries of juniper, poison ivy, poison oak and Virginia creeper. Tree swallows, the only other birds capable of turning myrtle wax into vital fat, often join the warblers at myrtles in their coastal wintering areas. If you’re near a bayberry or other myrtle shrub, listen for the yellow-rumped warbler call—a signature sharp chip.
Yellow-Rumped Warbler Migration
This warbler, which winters widely across the United States, can thrive in cold weather without migrating to the tropics. One of the earliest migrants, yellow-rumped warblers arrive in Southern states in late fall. They fly North in early spring, when dozens or more of these butterbutts can be found together in one area. Females migrate later than males.
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Yellow-Rumped Warbler Nesting
These warblers breed and nest in northern coniferous forests. The white-throated myrtle nests from New England to Alaska, and the yellow-throated Audubon’s nests throughout the forests and mountains of the West.
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