Birds – Yellow Warbler

(Dendroica cestiva) Wood Warbler family


Length-4.75 to 5.2 inches. Over an inch shorter than the English sparrow.

Male—Upper parts olive-yellow, brightest on the crown; under parts bright yellow, streaked with reddish brown. Wings and tail dusky olive-brown, edged with yellow.

Female—Similar; but reddish-brown streakings less distinct.

Range—North America, except Southwestern States, where the prothonotary warbler reigns in its stead. Nests from Gulf States to Fur Countries. Winters south of the Gulf States, as far as northern parts of South America.

Migrations—May. September. Common summer resident.

This exquisite little creature of perpetual summer (though to find it it must travel back and forth between two continents) comes out of the south with the golden days of spring. From much living in the sunshine through countless generations, its feathers have finally become the color of sunshine itself, and in disposition, as well, it is nothing if not sunny and bright. Not the least of its attractions is that it is exceedingly common every-where: in the shrubbery of our lawns, in gardens and orchards, by the road and brookside, in the edges of woods—everywhere we catch its glint of brightness through the long summer days, and hear its simple, sweet, and happy song until the end of July.

Because both birds are so conspicuously yellow, no doubt this warbler is quite generally confused with the goldfinch; but their distinctions are clear enough to any but the most superficial glance. In the first place, the yellow warbler is a smaller bird than the goldfinch; it has neither black crown, wings, nor tail, and it does have reddish-brown streaks on its breast that are sufficiently obsolete to make the coloring of that part look simply dull at a little distance. The goldfinch’s bill is heavy, in order that it may crack seeds, whereas the yellow warbler’s is slender, to enable it to pick minute insects from the foliage. The goldfinch’s wavy, curved flight is unique, and that of his “double ” differs not a whit from that of all nervous, flitting warblers. Surely no one familiar with the rich, full, canary-like song of the “wild canary,” as the goldfinch is called, could confuse it with the mild “Weechee, chee, der-wee ” of the summer yellowbird. Another distinction, not always infallible, but nearly so, is that when seen feeding, the goldfinch is generally below the line of vision, while the yellow warbler is either on it or not far above it, as it rarely goes over twelve feet from the ground.

No doubt, the particularly mild, sweet amiability of the yellow warbler is responsible for the persistent visitations of the cowbird, from which it is a conspicuous sufferer. In the exquisite, neat little matted cradle of glistening milk-weed flax, lined with down from the fronds of fern, the skulking housebreaker deposits her surreptitious egg for the little yellow mother-bird to hatch and tend. But amiability is not the only prominent trait in the female yellow warbler’s character. She is clever as well, and quickly builds a new bottom on her nest, thus sealing up the cowbird’s egg, and depositing her own on the soft, spongy floor above it. This operation has been known to be twice repeated, until the nest became three stories high, when a persistent cow-bird made such unusual architecture necessary.

The most common nesting place of the yellow warbler is in low willows along the shores of streams.