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Yellow Warbler

Setophaga petechia

Length: 5 inches Wingspan: 8 inches Seasonality: Summer / Migrant
ID Keys: Male yellow body with darker-shaded wings, reddish streaking on underparts

Yellow Warbler - Setophaga petechia Yellow Warblers are one of the most widespread and common warblers in North America. During the summer breeding season they can be found from north of the Arctic Circle, all the way southward through Mexico   The Yellow Warbler familiar to most in the United States appears as the bird to the right, and represents the migratory form. Additional forms exist in other parts of the Western Hemisphere (Caribbean, Mexico, Central America), and have much more chestnut or rufous color on the head.


Woodlands, brush and thickets, orchards, residential areas. They are often found near water, including the brushy or otherwise vegetated margins around wetlands, lakes, ponds, and rivers.


Mostly insects.  Shows a decided preference for caterpillars.  Occasionally will eat fruits and berries. 


 Uses a variety of foraging methodologies, including observing from a perch and flying out to capture flying insects (flycatching), climbing through vegetation and gleaning insects from vegetation foliage, or hovering and gleaning insects.


May through July. The nest is built in the fork of a small tree or bush by the female.  It is a sturdy, multi-layer cup, built primarily of grasses, strips of bark, and weed stems.  The inside is lined with softer materials such as downy plant fibers, hair, or feathers. She lays 3 to 6 eggs, and she alone incubates the eggs. The young hatch after about 12 days, with the young fledging about 10-12 days after hatching.Yellow Warblers are uniquely aware of the presence of Brown-headed Cowbird eggs in the nest. If cowbird eggs are detected, the female will often abandon all eggs in the nest, layering over the eggs and building a new nest floor on top of the old nest. 


The song is often described as a melodic sweet-sweet-sweet-I'm-so-sweet. The call is a sweet cheep.


Yellow Warblers are neotropical migrants, wintering in Mexico, Central America, and South America.  Non-migratory forms and other forms also exist in Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean.

Interactive eBird map:

Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Yellow Warbler sightings

Similar Species:

A brilliantly colored bird, it's ironically the lack of coloring other than the brilliant yellow that distinguishes it from many of its warbler relatives. The plainer female Yellow Warbler is more likely to be confused with another species than the more brightly colored male.

Wilson's Warbler 4 - Cardellina pusilla Orange-crowned Warbler - Oreothlypis celata - Pic3 Orange-crowned Warbler - Oreothlypis celata - Pic15 Prairie Warbler - Setophaga discolor
Wilson's Warbler Orange-crowned Warbler Orange-crowned Warbler Prairie Warbler

South Dakota "Hotspot":

They aren't a difficult species to find in most of the state. They are found in a variety of habitats, but riparian areas or brushy growth near water are areas that often hold Yellow Warblers. This includes many of the state parks in the eastern part of South Dakota, where riparian vegetation grows along a water feature. The Sergeant Creek area in Newton Hills State Park, for example, always holds many Yellow Warblers during the spring and summer months.


Yellow Warblers aren't typically common feeder visitors, but they will on rare occasions attend feeders for nectar (sugar water), fruit, or suet. This is most likely to occur in the spring or fall when unusually cold temperatures reduce normal insect foods to a minimum.

Conservation Status:

Generally stable and widespread.  Not as susceptible to habitat loss as many other species, due to its preference for woodland edges and second-growth forest. The IUCN considers the Yellow Warbler to be a species of "Least Concern".

Further Information:

Photo Information:

May 9th, 2011 - Big Sioux Recreation Area in Brandon, South Dakota -- Terry Sohl

Additional Photos:

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

Audio File Credits:


Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Yellow Warbler - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Common migrant and summer resident throughout the state.

Additional Yellow Warbler Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
 Yellow Warbler 1 - Setophaga petechiaYellow Warbler 2 - Setophaga petechiaYellow Warbler 3 - Setophaga petechiaYellow Warbler 4 - Setophaga petechiaYellow Warbler 5 - Setophaga petechiaYellow Warbler 6 - Setophaga petechiaYellow Warbler 7 - Setophaga petechiaYellow Warbler 8  - Setophaga petechiaYellow Warbler 9 - Setophaga petechiaYellow Warbler 10 - Setophaga petechiaYellow Warbler 11 - Setophaga petechiaYellow Warbler 12 - Setophaga petechiaYellow Warbler 13 - Setophaga petechiaYellow Warbler 14 - Setophaga petechiaYellow Warbler 15 - Setophaga petechiaYellow Warbler 16 - Setophaga petechiaYellow Warbler 17 - Setophaga petechiaYellow Warbler 18 - Setophaga petechia