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Chestnut-sided Warbler

Setophaga pensylvanica

Length: 5 inches Wingspan: 8 inches Seasonality: Migrant
ID Keys: Yellow-Crown, chestnut sides (much less on females), 2 light wing-bars, darker facial marks.

Chestnut-sided Warbler - Setophaga pensylvanicaThe Chestnut-sided Warbler is a very active warbler that is often seen foraging quite low in the foliage compared to many warbler species. Their "down-to-earth" behavior is a trait learned from their breeding grounds, where they prefer dense shrubby second-growth forest that occurs after a disturbance event. They are one species that has likely benefited from man's alteration of the North American landscape, as they prefer the type of second-growth shrubby forest that is often found after forest clear-cuts regenerate.  


Chestnut-sided Warblers are birds of dense thickets and shrubs, particularly areas of second-growth forest following a disturbance such as a fire, storm event, or clear-cutting. They can also be found in low forest undergrowth along the edges of denser forested areas. They prefer similar habitats when migrating through South Dakota.


The diet primarily consists of insects and other small invertebrates. They will also sometimes feed on fruits and berries, particularly on their tropical wintering grounds.


Chestnut-sided Warblers generally forage at low to mid levels in forest and shrubs, hopping from branch to branch, and occasionally hovering or flying out to catch flying insects.


Non-breeder in South Dakota. On their breeding grounds, Chestnut-sided Warblers nest in bushes and low trees, usually amongst dense foliage in the crook of a branch, within 5 feet from the ground. The female builds the nest, building an outer main layer of bark, grasses, and roots, and lined with finer grasses, hair, and spider webs. The female lays between 3 and 5 eggs, and she alone incubates them. The young hatch after about 12 days, and fledge from the nest about 12 to 14 days after hatching.


The song of a Chestnut-sided Warbler is a cheery musical wheet-wheet-wheet-wheet-you. The typical call is a sweet cheep.


Neotropical migrant, summering in southern Canada and in the northern and southern U.S.  Winters in Central and South America. In South Dakota they're an uncommon migrant in the eastern part of the state, and are a much rarer migrant in the west.

Interactive eBird Map:

Click for access to an interactive eBird map of Chestnut-sided Warbler sightings

Similar Species:

Chestnut-sided Warbler males have a rather unique plumage pattern, so there's not too many species they're likely to be confused with. Female Chestnut-sided Warblers are somewhat plainer in breeding plumage, and quite a bit plainer in non-breeding plumage, and could potentially cause more identification challenges. Here are the species most likely to be confused with a Chestnut-sided Warbler:

Bay-breasted Warbler 5 - Setophaga castanea Bay-breasted Warbler 6 - Setophaga castanea Pine Warbler - Setophaga pinus Pine Warbler - Setophaga pinus
Bay-breasted Warbler Bay-breasted Warbler Pine Warbler Pine Warbler

Conservation Status:

Chestnut-sided Warblers may be more common now than before settlement of the continent, because of the increased second-growth forest that results from clear-cutting.  They don't do as well in mature or undisturbed forest land. There's some evidence of decline in recent decades, but they are still found across a very broad geographic area, are common in parts of that range, and have overall healthy populations. The IUCN considers the Chestnut-sided Warbler to be a species of "Least Concern".

Further Information:

Photo Information:

May 22nd, 2011 - Beaver Creek Nature Area in Minnehaha County, South Dakota - Terry Sohl

Additional Photos:

Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Chestnut-sided Warbler photos.

Audio File Credits:

Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Chestnut-sided Warbler - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Uncommon migrant in the eastern half of the state, casual in the western part.  There are also a few summer records in the Black Hills.

Additional Chestnut-sided Warbler Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos 

Chestnut-sided Warbler 1 - Setophaga pensylvanicaChestnut-sided Warbler 2 - Setophaga pensylvanicaChestnut-sided Warbler 3 - Setophaga pensylvanicaChestnut-sided Warbler 4 - Setophaga pensylvanicaChestnut-sided Warbler 5 - Setophaga pensylvanicaChestnut-sided Warbler 6 - Setophaga pensylvanicaChestnut-sided Warbler 7 - Setophaga pensylvanicaChestnut-sided Warbler 8 - Setophaga pensylvanicaChestnut-sided Warbler 9 - Setophaga pensylvanicaChestnut-sided Warbler 10 - Setophaga pensylvanicaChestnut-sided Warbler 11 - Setophaga pensylvanicaChestnut-sided Warbler 12 - Setophaga pensylvanica