Bird Lore: Wilson’s Warbler

Wilson's Warbler. (Photos by LeRoy Van Hee)
Wilson’s Warbler. (Photos by LeRoy Van Hee)

A tiny burst of yellow with a blackish to black skull cap and an olive-green back, is the Wilson’s Warbler. It is one of the most common migratory warblers in the Western U.S. It is a common summer resident and migrant in Western Washington that can be seen from April through September. LeRoy recently caught the bird in his photos near the Point Edwards pond. Look for this warbler in Edmonds in areas with deciduous trees and brush, including riparian areas. That means the Willow Creek Hatchery, the marsh and Yost Park, among other locations.

Diet is mostly insects, as it is with other warblers. It includes aphids, caterpillars, bees, wasps, beetles, and some spiders. The Wilson’s Warbler sometimes eats berries. It usually feeds within 10 feet of ground, actively searching among foliage. It will also hop on the ground, probing among fallen leaves and will fly out from brush or trees to catch flying insects in midair.

wilsons2The nesting population along the Pacific Coast tends to lay fewer eggs and raise fewer offspring per nest. The mountain population lays more eggs per clutch and fledges more young. The female builds a nest that is a bulky open cup of dead leaves, grass and moss. She lines it with hair and fine grass. She incubates her 4-6 eggs for 10-13 days. Both parents feed the young, which leave the nest anywhere from 8-13 days after hatching. The Wilson’s Warbler is vulnerable to cowbird parasitism. That means the Brown-headed Cowbird regularly lays eggs in the nests of this warbler. A young cowbird is larger and can outcompete its warbler nest mates for food.

The oldest known Wilson’s Warbler was a male, 8 years and 11 months of age when he was recaptured and re-released at a California banding operation.

Wilson’s Warbler is considered to be a species of least concern. Although it is a species in steep decline (a cumulative decline in population of 61 percent between 1966 and 2014), it still has a breeding population estimated at 60 million. Leading causes of decline are thought to be degradation and loss of breeding habitat such as western riparian woodlands.

There are many collective nouns for any group of warblers. They include bouquet, confusion, fall, and wrench of warblers.

You can hear the Wilson’s Warbler song here: We are now at the time of year when many species are transitioning back to their calls or chip notes. Go to this link to hear what the Wilson’s Warbler call sounds like:

— By Carol Riddell

Carol Riddell manages the bird education displays, on behalf of Pilchuck Audubon Society and Edmonds Parks & Recreation, at the Olympic Beach Visitor Station.

4 Replies to “Bird Lore: Wilson’s Warbler”

  1. I enjoy reading this column. We had a baby robin on our driveway yesterday. We left it alone since we knew that it’s parents were nearby and that they were teaching it how to fly. We have yet to see it today so we’re hoping nothing happened to it yesterday.


  2. Thank you for letting us know you enjoy the column. There are lots of young robins out and about right now and probably second broods of baby birds. You are correct that it is best to let the parents oversee a fledging youngster but with our residential environment that includes a lot of unrestrained cats and dogs, it is probably good to keep an eye on a young bird on the ground, in case it needs protection.


  3. What birds might return to their nest built in the previous year? I’ve several nests I’m questioning removal, I don’t want to remove some little guys “home”


  4. I know that most raptor nests get re-used as long as they are still intact, such as those of Bald Eagles, Ospreys, and many hawks. Swallows such as Purple Martins and Tree Swallows will continue to use nest boxes from year to year, just building new nests on top of the old ones. I’m not sure about cup nests that are attached to tree limbs and bushes. I suspect they are not strong enough to withstand winters so that smaller birds simply build new nests each year. Some small birds, such as Marsh Wrens, build several nests each year but only lay eggs in one of them. If you wait another month before removing them, I think you can be assured that nesting is through for this season.


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