Orange-Crowned Warbler

Leiothlypis celata

Last updated: March 20, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
Image Credit Hayley Crews/Shutterstock.com

Often mistaken for the Tennessee Warblers, which are equally dull.

Orange-Crowned Warbler Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Aves
Order
Passeriformes
Family
Parulidae
Genus
Leiothlypis
Scientific Name
Leiothlypis celata

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Orange-Crowned Warbler Conservation Status

Orange-Crowned Warbler Locations

Orange-Crowned Warbler Locations

Orange-Crowned Warbler Facts

Prey
Insects
Fun Fact
Often mistaken for the Tennessee Warblers, which are equally dull.
Estimated Population Size
76 million
Biggest Threat
Global warming and urbanization.
Most Distinctive Feature
Yellow or dusky undertail.
Wingspan
7.25 inches
Incubation Period
12 days
Litter Size
3-6 chicks
Habitat
Forests
Predators
Cats (domestic and wild), birds of prey (hawks, eagles, etc.)
Diet
Omnivore
Type
Bird
Common Name
Orange-crowned warbler
Number Of Species
1
Location
United States, Bahamas, Belize, Canada, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, and Turks and Caicos Islands.
Nesting Location
Ground, scrub oak, riverside willows.
Migratory
1

Orange-Crowned Warbler Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Yellow
  • Black
  • Olive
Skin Type
Feathers
Top Speed
25 mph
Lifespan
6 – 8 years
Weight
9 grams
Length
4.8 – 5.3 inches

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The orange-crowned warbler is a unique songbird who primarily lives in the western hemisphere.

This bird has a high-pitched trill for a song, and males even have different songs to differentiate them from each other. Both parents take care of the young, though only the mother incubates the eggs for just under 2 weeks.

Orange-Crowned Warbler Amazing Facts

  • A group of warblers is called a wrench, fall, confusion, or bouquet.
  • Even though their name includes the word “orange,” it is nearly impossible to see this color unless they are excited.
  • They will stay on their breeding ground for longer if they have enough food and warmth.

Where to Find Orange-Crowned Warblers

If you want to spot an orange-crowned warbler for yourself, you’ll need to look down. Typically, these birds forage in shrubs, but they aren’t often found in the western part of the United States. Most commonly, if you look for them in late spring and late fall (October), you might catch a glimpse in the southeastern region, but they become more abundant during the winter.

Most often, they are seen in a range of areas in Arizona, New Mexico, and California, hiding within the edge of forests. They like habitats with thickets, rivers, and shrubs, leading them to live in a range of locations between North to South America. They can be found in other countries the Bahamas, Belize, Canada, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, and the Turks and Caicos Islands as well.

If you can’t see them, you might still hear them. Their call is high-pitched and sharp, and they use it often. Some people describe their call as a trill, starting high and loud as it descends towards the end of each note.

Orange-Crowned Warbler Nests

To avoid the threat of other birds who may rob their nests, the majority of the orange-crowned warblers in the world will build their nest on the ground, in tall shrubs, or in low trees. The only exception to this nesting location is the sordida subspecies. Without these predators to worry about, the only other threat is the Island Scrub-Jay, which is endemic to Santa Cruz Island in California.


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Females protect their nests by finding a location that has nearby vegetation that can conceal them. The nest is typically made of leaves, twigs, grass, and moss. They line it with animal fur and dry grass for their eggs. Building the nest is a task that only the female takes on, but the male will stay nearby to stand guard.

Orange-Crowned Warbler Scientific Name

The orange-crowned warbler is primarily referred to as the Leiothlypis celata, but that hasn’t always been the name. Originally, this songbird was named Sylvia celatus by Thomas Say, an American zoologist, in 1822. The name was changed in 2008 by George Sangster, a Dutch ornithologist. It covers a total of four subspecies, which vary in size, molt pattern, and plumage color.

The subspecies include:

  • L. c. celata
  • L. c. lutescens
  • L. c. orestera
  • L. c. sordida

The word “celata” comes from the Latin “celatus,” which means “secret” or “hidden.”

Orange-Crowned Warbler Appearance

While many birds have beautiful colors that help them stand out to their partners, the warbler is quite plain. Despite the color orange being in their name, you won’t likely see any streaks of the vivid hue across the sky; they only show off their orange crown when they get excited because the head feathers raise.

The songbird is usually a muted gray to olive-green, though the contrast varies among the different subspecies. The dullest is the one classified is L. c. celata, which is a pale grey, while the brightest yellow is seen on the Pacific Coast orange-crowned warbler. Dark green feathers adorn the L. c. sordida subspecies. Typically, the birds that remain further west tend to have more yellow.

The rest of the body of the warbler is rather slim at just 9 grams in weight and just over 5 inches in length. They have a sleek bill and warm yellow feathers beneath the take. The telltale sign that you see an orange-crowned warbler is the lack of wing bars across their 7.25-inch wingspan.

Orange-crowned warbler (Leiothlypis celata), Texas, USA. The typical habitat of this warbler is shrubby thickets or thick woodlands.
Orange-crowned Warbler (Leiothlypis celata), Texas, USA. The typical habitat of this warbler is shrubby thickets or thick woodlands.

iStock.com/WMarissen

Orange-Crowned Warbler Behavior

The most notable part of the orange-crowned warbler is their song because it is so varied. Other wood warblers stick to just a small melody, but the call of this warbler even changes from one male to another, making it their signature among potential mates. Some of these songbirds will collect in “song neighborhoods” made of two to six males who mimic the songs of each other. These groups will stay together for years.

The flight of the orange-crowned warbler is quite fast, allowing them to catch prey quickly.

Orange-Crowned Warbler Migration Pattern and Timing

These warblers are migratory birds, starting in the spring at an earlier time than other species. They tend to stay longer on the breeding ground, and they will go a higher range into northern Canada than most other warblers are willing to go. Their migration is solely based on the amount of food available to them and the amount of time they can stay warm. Once the temperature becomes too cold and food becomes scarce, they journey down to Mexico and further south again.

Orange-Crowned Warbler Diet

The orange-crowned warbler bases its main habitat on where it can source food. They’ll forage from perch to perch, though they stay fairly close to the ground.

What Does the Orange-Crowned Warbler Eat?

This songbird eats many different insects and their larvae within their available habitat. They will also consume nectar, berries, flowers, and other nutrients. If you want to spot one in your yard, they are attracted to bird feeders with sugar water, suet, and peanut butter.

Orange-Crowned Warbler Predators and Threats

Due to the small size of the orange-crowned warbler, they are easy prey for birds of prey, like hawks and eagles. Domestic and wild cats alike can also catch and eat them.

The biggest threat to this type of bird has to do with the changing weather. In the spring, heatwaves can be detrimental to chicks who haven’t left the nest yet. Commercial development is also a threat as the construction of new builds takes away from their natural habitat.

What Eats Orange-Crowned Warblers?

The orange-crowned warbler is at risk of being hunted primarily by birds of prey and cats.

Orange-Crowned Warbler Reproduction, Babies, and Lifespan

When a male warbler wants to court a female, he’ll follow her around as he droops his wings, spreads his tail, and points his bill up. This pattern will continue until she mates with him, though he will not sing his song until after she’s made a nest. He will even show his crown feathers if another male attempts to interrupt this pairing. While he won’t allow other male orange-crowned warblers near his mate or his nest, other species are tolerated easily.

The orange-crowned warbler typically lays 3-6 eggs in her nest annually with just one brood each year. These eggs are white or cream in color, featuring reddish-brown speckles on the side that is larger. Incubation is relatively short, only lasting about 11-13 days. Upon hatching, they are covered in dark gray down feathers that are sparse along their bodies. Their eyes are closed, but they are able to gape for food and raise their heads.

When the young – chicks – are born, they receive regular care from both parents, including their feeding. Between 10 and 13 days old, they are ready to leave the nest, though they will continue to improve their flight. Even though the chicks won’t continue to live in the nest, the parents will still feed them for a few days.

Orange-Crowned Warbler Population

Currently, the estimated population of orange-crowned warblers is about 76 million individual birds, spread amongst North, Central, and South America. Considering that the numbers are steady, the IUCN sees this bird as “least concern” for conservation efforts.

Still, that doesn’t mean that they’ve always been safe. From 1966 to 2014, the North American Breeding Bird Survey estimated that the population declined by about 34%, threatened by the change in suitable habitat. The biggest threat to this population is the steady change of global warming, which changes where they can migrate and when they breed. Even with a lifespan of several years, crashing into towers and wind turbines can lead to an untimely death ahead of their time.

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Orange-Crowned Warbler FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Are Orange-crowned Warblers rare?

Yes. They only live in the East during late spring and late fall. In a few low habitats, they are found in the southeastern US as well. The telltale sign that they are nearby is their song, which has a high and sharp sound to it.

Where do orange-crowned warblers live?

The typical habitat of this warbler is shrubby thickets or thick woodlands. They particularly love to be in areas with aspen and willow trees. This habitat changes during migration, taking them to much higher elevations, though they can still be spotted in lowland streams near blackberry thickets.

What do Orange-crowned Warblers eat?

The diet of the orange-crowned warbler is primarily insectivorous. Their preferred diet includes invertebrates, like beetles, spiders, and caterpillars.

Do Orange-crowned Warblers migrate?

Yes. Their primary migration begins early in the spring, which is much sooner than other warblers. They will travel farther north than other warbler species, and they’ll stay for longer when breeding if it allows them to get the food that they need easily. They prefer to leave their breeding ground after prey becomes scarcer.

Sources
  1. All About Birds, Available here: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Orange-crowned_Warbler/overview
  2. Bird Web, Available here: https://www.birdweb.org/birdweb/bird/orange-crowned_warbler
  3. Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orange-crowned_warbler
  4. What Bird, Available here: https://identify.whatbird.com/obj/153/_/orange-crowned_warbler.aspx
  5. Audubon, Available here: https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/orange-crowned-warbler

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