Warbler

Last updated: October 7, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
Image Credit Agami Photo Agency/Shutterstock.com

Warblers are so called because of the trills of their song.

Warbler Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Aves
Order
Passeriformes

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.


Warbler Facts

Prey
Insects, spiders, caterpillars, mosquito larvae
Main Prey
Insects
Group Behavior
  • Solitary
  • Solitary/Group
  • Solitary/Pairs
  • Small families
Fun Fact
Warblers are so called because of the trills of their song.
Biggest Threat
brood parasitism, humans, winters
Incubation Period
12 days
Age Of Independence
2-3 weeks
Age Of Fledgling
10 days
Diet
Omnivore
Lifestyle
  • Group
  • Pair
Favorite Food
Insects, spiders
Common Name
warbler
Average Clutch Size
2
Nesting Location
Arboreal, bushes, trees, forest floor
Migratory
1

Warbler Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • Grey
  • Yellow
  • Red
  • Gold
  • Green
Lifespan
4-12 years
Weight
0.1-2 oz
Length
3-10 inches
Age of Weaning
2-3 weeks
Venomous
No

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Warblers are so called because of the trills of their song.

Warblers are a group of birds also known as perching birds, which means they have feet adapted for perching on trees. They are small birds with plumage ranging from drab colors like gray and brown to brighter ones like red, blue, and yellow. They are known for their trilling and quavering songs. Some of them have duller voices, whereas others have loud, piercing calls. They are mostly observable during mating season in spring because of their mating calls.

Amazing Warbler Facts

  • Love songs: Mating females choose the best male singers to mate with.
  • Fast-flyers: Warblers can reach impressive speeds of up to 25 mph!
  • Economic importance: Warblers mostly eat insects, and some species help with pest control, keeping pest populations down.
  • Long-flyers: The Canada warbler travels more than 3,000 miles during migration!
  • Making melodies: Warbler songs can be used to attract mates, communicate with each other, and bonded Warbler mates even sing duets!

Where to Find Warblers

Warblers are one of the most common types of birds, and, hence, they have a wide distribution, covering Africa, Europe, North and South America, Australia, Asia, the Pacific islands, and the subarctic region.

If you think you can catch these birds around your bird feeder, think again. Their diet of insects keeps them well-hidden in foliage. Warblers build a wide variety of nests, ranging from small cup-like structures to domes and usually nest in trees, grass, in bushes, or hidden inside the ground. Their nests comprise of anything they can find- hair, grass, spider webs, lichen, and moss.

If you want to snag a glimpse at one of these elusive birds, then your best bet is catching them on the ground. Warblers inhabit a vast range of habitats, from tree canopies to bushes to the forest ground.

Warbler Classification and Scientific Name

The name warbler comes from an Old French word “werbler,” which means to sing in trills. Warblers predominantly belong to the order Passeriformes (perching birds). These birds are not all closely related, but share a number of similar traits, which include being small songbirds with an insectivorous diet. There are about four to five families of warblers, including the New World warblers belonging to the families Parulidae, or woodwarblers, the Old World warblers, formerly of the family Sylviidae, and the Australasian warbler family, Acanthizidae. Due to much confusion regarding members of the Sylviidae family, most of the warblers belonging to it have been removed by taxonomists and placed into other families. Most Old World warblers are dullish gray or brown in color, but New World warblers have a brighter plumage.



Despite their matching names, Old and New World warblers share very few similarities in characteristics and are not closely related.

New World warblers are also commonly called woodwarblers because they are mostly arboreal with few exceptions.

Notable Warbler Species

Some common species of warblers include the following:

  • Dartford warbler: A long-tailed warbler with dark blue, black and brown plumage on top and red underbelly. It has a wingspan of about five to seven inches. It inhabits the United Kingdom and is a near-threatened species.
  • Blackcap: The Blackcap warbler has a unique song, so admired that it is commonly referred to as the “northern nightingale.” Its plumage is mostly gray. The males have black caps while the females have chestnut caps.
  • Canada warbler: This bright bird is darker on top with a vivid yellow underbelly, chest, and neck. It makes migratory trips of over 3000 miles from South America to the United States and Canada!
  • Garden warbler: Despite its name, it does not live in gardens as it prefers woodland. They have a wingspan of about eight to 10 inches.
  • Marsh warbler: These birds are often mistaken for the reed warbler, but they are whiter below and have paler legs. The male marsh warblers are known for their imitative songs of other birds. They can imitate songs of an average 75 other bird species, mostly African.
  • Reed warbler: Although these birds breed in Europe, they spend their winters in sub-Saharan Africa and some live in Africa as well.
  • Willow warbler: These warblers are greenish-gray in color and pale underneath with yellowish necks. Almost identical to the Chiffchaff warblers, they are differentiated through their song.
  • Wood warbler: This is a brightly-colored warbler with yellow and greenish tones on top and pale underneath. It is widespread in Europe and can be found in forested lowlands.
  • Chiffchaff: Chiffchaffs can be found in woodlands, parks, and sizeable gardens. Their feathers are brown, cream, yellow, and olive-green and they have a unique tail-wagging gesticulation.

Warbler Appearance

Warblers are generally small birds with slender beaks adapted for hunting insects from vegetation. Their appearance differ between families. Old World warblers are small birds whose length ranges from three to 10 inches long. They are mostly dully colored, with gray, green, yellow, and brown plumage, and are usually darker on top and lighter below. If you are concerned about being able to tell the males apart from the females, have no fear. Some of the males have black or gray plumage on their heads and females having duskier colors.

New World warblers are even smaller, reaching lengths of only seven inches and weighing as little as 0.1 to two ounces-about the weight of two dimes! On the flip side, they are more vividly colored than their Old World counterparts, with plumage consisting of gold, red, yellow, olive, and black colors. They generally possess short and pointy bills and dainty, fragile feet with three toes pointed forward, a characteristic of birds belonging to the Passeriformes order. A general characteristic of woodwarblers is that they possess nine primary feathers while other songbirds have 10. Another commonality is that woodwarblers are highly active birds. They flit around quickly — too quickly even for some bird-watchers to spot.

The wings of the warblers are unique to their behavioral instincts. For example, the wings of the migrating birds are long and pointed to aid prolonged flight, whereas the wigs of the birds who stay in a permanent habitat are round and short.

A lot of warblers have rictal bristles at the base of their bill, stiff feathers which are adapted for their mode of feeding. The bristles help to trap insects for feeding.

willow warbler with white and yellow flowers
Willow warblers have greenish-gray backs and wings, pale undersides, and yellowish necks.

iStock.com/Sander Meertins

Warbler Population

Warblers are present in most regions of the world. Old World warblers may typically be found in the temperate and tropical regions of Europe, Africa, North and South America, Australia, the subarctic, and across Asia. They are also abundantly found in the Mediterranean. They can occupy habitats at many levels, ranging from sea level to thousands of feet above it!

Woodwarblers are called the New World warblers because of their predominant presence in the Americas. They can be found in countries like Chile, Argentina, Canada, the US, and Mexico. Woodwarblers generally inhabit bushy, marshy, swampy, and forest regions. More than 50 species of woodwarblers breed in North America, in parts of the United States and Canada, such as the Yellow Warbler and Kirtland’s warbler. Woodwarblers are mostly migratory birds. A few species tough out the North American winters, while some migrate as far down as Argentina. The Canadian Warbler makes trips of over 3000 miles during migration!

There are over 400 species of Old World warblers and about 120 species of New World warblers, not to mention the other smaller families recognized by taxonomists, such as the Australian warblers (Acanthizidae) which contains 67 species.

Several warblers have been listed as threatened or near threatened species and for various reasons. The Dartford warbler’s conservation status is listed as near threatened. It suffered from harsh winters in the past and population declined in the 1960s. See a list of all conservation statuses here.

Warbler Diet

Warblers are mostly insectivorous, with a diet spanning insects, caterpillars, and spiders. A few species feed on nectar and sap, such as the Golden-Crowned Ringlet. Migrating species of warblers, however, consume fruits, berries to stock up on body fat for their long journeys. One species of warbler, the blackcap, has been known to accept various food from humans on a feeder.

Baby warblers eat insects and fruits and are fed by both parents.

Some of the larger Old World warbler species have a more robust diet, feeding on larger animals such as frogs and fish.

Few of the woodwarbler species catch insects during flight as well.

Warbler Predators and Threats

Warblers are small birds possessing a vast population size across the world, therefore it isn’t a shocker that these songbirds face many threats from various factors.

Brood parasitism is a common threat that some warbler species face. Brood parasites are animals that depend on other animals to raise their offspring for them. Some birds even lay eggs that imitate the appearance of warbler eggs and leave them in warbler nests for them to nurture. This harms the victim bird species severely.

The reed warbler is a victim of brood parasitism by the common cuckoo. The rare Kirtland’s warbler is also a victim of parasitism by the brown-headed cowbird, contributing to its threatened status. Some birds have evolved to protect themselves and their young from this by building new nests on top of old ones or abandoning parasitized nests altogether.

Humans also pose a threat to migratory warbler species, particularly in the Mediterranean region. People catch the warblers and eat them as food. This practice is mostly uncontrolled and poses a threat to the bird species.

Warbler Reproduction and Lifespan

Most Old World warblers are monogamous. Some species mate for just one nesting season, while others, like the Arctic warblers, mate for life. Some warblers practice serial monogamy, where a male bird finds multiple mates for different, separate nestings in one season. They lay five to seven pink-speckled white eggs. Old World warblers’ eggs are usually speckled.

New World warblers or woodwarblers lay 4 eggs and tropical woodwarblers usually lay three. Their eggs are white with pale reddish-brown or black markings. The eggs hatch after 12 days, after which both parents take turns nurturing the young. In 10 days, the offspring becomes a fledgling, but don’t take flight for a few weeks until they develop the necessary muscle to do so.

Old World warblers have an average lifespan of 8-12 years, whereas woodwarblers average around four to eight years.

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About the Author

Hi! I am a writer, actor, and filmmaker. Reading is my favorite hobby. Watching old movies and taking short naps are a close second and third. I have been writing since childhood, with a vast collection of handwritten books sealed away in a duffel bag somewhere in my room. I love fiction, especially fantasy and adventure. I recently won the James Currey Prize 2022, so now, naturally, I feel like I own words. When I was 11, I wanted to be a marine biologist because I love animals, particularly dogs, cats, and owls. I also enjoy potatoes and chocolate in all their glorious forms.

Warbler FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Can warblers be good pets?

Warblers are wild birds, some of which are migratory, so keeping them as pets might not be such a great idea. However, some species have been known to accept food from humans so maybe try stocking up your feeder with their favorite foods. You might get lucky!

Where do warblers migrate to?

Migratory warblers fly down to the global south during the winter, and these places include Chile, Argentina, Africa, and the Mediterranean.

How many warblers are there?

There are hundreds of species of warblers. Old World warblers make up about 400 species, while New World warblers make up 120 species.

Why do warblers migrate?

Because insects don’t live in cold regions so they migrate south to warmer areas to look for food during the winter.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. Encyclopedia.com, Available here: https://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/new-world-warblers-parulidae
  2. Encyclopedia.com, Available here: https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/old-world-warblers-sylviidae
  3. The Canadian Encyclopedia, Available here: https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/warbler
  4. Britannica, Available here: https://www.britannica.com/animal/warbler
  5. Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Typical_warbler
  6. JRank Science & Philosophy, Available here: https://science.jrank.org/pages/7283/Warblers-Conservation-warblers.html
  7. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Available here: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/warbler-family/
  8. Britannica, Available here: https://www.britannica.com/animal/Sylviidae
  9. IUCN Red List, Available here: https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/22716984/117822768
  10. Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marsh_warbler

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