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Yellow warbler Birds of America { Setophaga petechia}

Updated on August 9, 2015

Mrs Mabel Osgood Wright

Mrs Wright became President of the Audubon Society of Connecticut in 1849}
Mrs Wright became President of the Audubon Society of Connecticut in 1849} | Source


This article is another in the series looking at North American Birds. Here we review the yellow warbler Setophaga petchia which belong to the Passeriformes {perching birds} and the Family Parulidae. As with the other articles in this series, there will be historical references from former American ornithologists, so that we get a perception of their thoughts at that time in American History. A description and accompany notes are included from Mrs Mary Osgood Wright who became the President of the Audubon Society for the State of Connecticut in 1849. The notes are from her book Birdcraft (1897} {not in copyright}.

Yellow warbler

Rather than live where the skies are gray and the air is cold, this adventurous little warbler will travel 2,000 miles or more to follow the sun. A trip from Panama to Canada and back again in five months does not appall him. By living in perpetual sunshine his feathers seemed to have absorbed some of it, so that he looks like a stray sunbeam playing among the shrubbery on the lawn, the trees in the orchard, the bushes in the roadside thicket, the willows and alders beside the stream. The cheerful yellow warbler stays around our homes all summer long.

Who first misled us by calling these birds warblers ?. The truth is there is not one really fine singer, like a thrush, in the whole family. The warblers in general have a weak, squeaky or wiry songs and lisping 'tseep' call notes neither of which deserve to be called a warble.

Yellow warblers suffer more than most from the attention of the Cowbird. Scarcely have the pair made their nest than the skulking Cowbird seizes her chance to lay an egg in it.

{ Neltje Blanchan 1800,s}

Yellow warbler


Description and accompanying notes by Mrs Wright {pictured above}

Note--during the times of Mrs wright the bird had the scientific name of Dendroica aestiva. The Yellow warbler was also commonly referred to as the Summer yellow bird.

Length 4.75 -5 inches.

Male and female, above rich olive yellow, brightening on the rump. Breast and under parts golden yellow, breast streaked with cinnamon brown. Wings and tail olive brown edged with yellow. Bill lead colored. Feet light brown. Female darker with streaks on breast faintly marked or absent.

Season first week i May to middle of September.

Range North America at large, except south western part, south in winter to central America and northern South America.

In early may, often on May day itself, if the weather is clement, when the marsh marigolds are vanishing from the swamps, and the cherry trees are in bloom, the Yellow warbler descends upon the garden and orchards.

They come like whirring leaves, half autumn yellow, half green of spring, the colors blending as in the outer petals of grass grown daffodils. Loveable, cheerful little spirits, darting about the trees, exclaiming at each morsel that they glean. Carrying little glints of sun on their backs wherever they go, they should make the gloomiest misanthrope feel the season's charm. the Yellow warbler sings from its arrival until July but has no second song period.

Yellow warbler with nest and eggs


Yellow warbler lifestyle

" While May bedecks the naked trees,

With tassels and embroideries,

And many blue-hued violets beam

Along the edges of the stream,

I hear a voice that seems to say,

Now near at hand , now far away,

'Witchery-witchery-witchery' ".

Mr.Stoddards {1800,s} says of the song " How songs are made is a mystery, which having studied for years still baffles me" he was alluding on the various ways different people interpret the song of the bird.

The Yellow warbler was once placed in the Family Minoltidae, which composed of the Wood warblers found only in North America and consisted at that time of around 100 known species. About 70 of these visited the United States. They are migrants and in the size and in the distances they travel in migration and in the size of the area they occupy during the breeding season, present an enormous range of variation.

According to Chapman " They capture their insect food in a variety of ways.Some species flit actively from branch to branch, taking their prey from the more exposed parts of the twigs and leaves, others gleaners and carefully explore the under surfaces of leaves or crevices in the bark, while several, like the flycatchers capture a large part of their food on the wing. As a rule, they are arboreal, but many are thicket haunting and some terrestrial."

The Yellow warbler was once known as the Wild canary, Summer yellow bird, Golden warbler and Yellow poll. The yellow warbler is a very active and confiding little bird. It is often seen in towns and cities as well as in the wider country, in and about gardens among the blooms of fruit trees and shrubberies, and on account of its colour it is very noticeable.

Those yellow warblers that are passing through often stay long enough to procure food for the remainder of their journey, but even so their destruction of insects during that time is exceptional. The yellow warblers that stay for the summer are very active and industrious in their work, taking the eggs and larvae of pernicious insects from buds and leaves of the trees. For this task the birds are well adapted. They have a very elegantly shaped, sharp bill. With it they are capable of taking the smallest insect egg and doing this they are among the very busiest of insectivorous birds.

They not only destroy the small insects but consume with relish many beetles many of which may be injurious to crops.

Yellow warbler nest and Eggs


Nest and Eggs of the yellow warbler

" Have you walked beneath the blossoms in spring?

In the spring?

Beneath the apple blossoms in the spring?

It is then in early May that the yellow warbler will be found building her nest"

In the country the nest is usually placed in the trees and bushes which grow along roads, fences, levees, banks of streams and similar locations. The young trees especially Elms, which grow in narrow belts along ponds and creeks, or scattered by some water course, seem to be preferred above others, however, the driest districts are by no means deserted.

In towns, the Horse chestnut, Elm, Maple and other shade trees, along with the shrubbery of the lawn or garden are the most frequented localities. The nest is saddled upon a branch and supported by small branches about the circumference, or, is placed in the fork, or is built among a number of small stems growing so close together as to form a suitable resting place.

The distance from the ground is generally somewhere between 10-15 feet, but occasionally it may be located in the upper branches of a medium sized tree. However, when built in a shrub or bush it may be only a foot or so from the ground. The outside of the nest is generally composed of silver-grey weed fibres, varying in breadth. They are arranged loosely, in some specimens hanging an inch or two below the bottom. In others they are drawn tightly, being almost felted together.

In place of fibres wool, cotton and finely split grasses are frequently used But whatever composes the exterior, there is almost invariably beneath it a layer of fine, round or split grasses of a yellowish or reddish brown hue, which extends to the rim, where it is woven in with materials of the outside.

Upon the layer of grass is placed a lining. It usually consists of plant down, over which a few horse hairs or pieces of Roller grass are placed, as if to keep it in position. Sometimes the down is dun coloured, sometimes white, but most frequently it has a faint yellow hue common to the silk of the Willow blossom. The down may cover the entire cavity or sometimes there may be very little, or irregularly distributed mixed with pieces of broken or split grasses and horse hairs.

When the outside is composed of wool or cotton, the lining is generally of the same material. In towns various other substances may well be used besides those already mentioned may enter the structure, such as string, ravellings, paper, cloth and rarely feathers. As a rule however, there is great uniformity in the materials of the nest.

The number of eggs that form the clutch varies from three to six, the usual number appears to be five. The ground colour of the shell is usually white, but may be faintly tinted with blue, green yellow or grey. The markings consist of spots, specks or blotches rarely lines of a yellowish or reddish brown of different shades, These markings are confined chiefly to the base of the egg. On others they are unequally distributed but never so thickly as to obscure the ground colour.

Yellow warbler attending nest


Yellow warbler

Image was originally posted to flickr
Image was originally posted to flickr | Source


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    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 4 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hi Deb, Hope you have success in capturing your image. { as I am sure you will given time and your skill}. Thank you for your kind comments. Best wishes to you.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      There are several little Yellow Warblers around Boomer Lake, and I keep hoping for a photo opportunity, but they are so darn fast. A wonderful read, and truly interesting tidbits. This birds habits have not changed a bit over the century.

    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 4 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      DDE, Hi

      Thank you for being the first to visit. Yellow warblers are indeed adorable birds. Best wishes to you.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Yellow warbler looks so adorable and so much to learn about this bird a great write up here on a new sort of bird.