Creature Feature

My Favorite Warblers

By Wayne Bierbaum

Small insect-eating birds called warblers migrate south for the winter and then return north each spring to nest and enjoy a northern summer. As the birds fly south in the fall most species have drab winter colors but as they travel north in the springtime they have courtship colors, making this a great time to look for the little migrants. 

There are three warblers that I consider my favorites to observe and photograph. 

Many warblers feed near the tops of trees, in the canopy. People intent on finding and counting warblers can get a really sore neck from looking up all the time, sometimes referred to as a “warbler neck”. The warblers I like stay closer to the ground and are not taxing to my neck. They are quite colorful and like to sing. They are the black-throated blue warbler, the Blackburnian warbler, and the yellow warbler. 

The most common of the three is the yellow warbler. The male is bright yellow with reddish streaks on his chest. The female is a duller yellowish brown. They typically live at the edge of woods, along bodies of fresh water and marshes. Their bright yellow plumage and frequent singing make them easy to find. Setting up a camera near their favorite singing perch can net some nice photos. Their nests are hard to find as they are made in dense thickets. The construction is interesting as they like to weave in spider webs. 

The black-throated blue warbler male is dark blue on its back and head and has a black throat and a bright white belly. When they fly, they have a white bar that shows on the top of their wings. The females are difficult to identify as they have little blue or black but rather are greenish-brown. They are usually seen foraging near the ground and will frequently pop up and seem to pose in the open. The song is a buzzy sound with a rising pitch that sounds like it is saying I’m lazzzy. The song is pretty distinct making them easy to identify just by sound. These birds prefer dense forests with a brushy understory and are commonly found in Maryland’s mountainous regions. However, as they migrate through our region, they can be found almost anywhere. I have seen quite a few along Jug Bay.  

The Blackburnian warbler is a colorful gem of a bird. They seem to follow the same sort of migratory path as the black-throated blue warbler. They have a bright orange throat, with a dark back and white wing bars. These warblers like to sing as they hunt for insects. Their song is high pitched and progressively gets higher and sounds like tsu tsu tsu…teeeheee. They spend their summers from North Carolina to Canada in mixed forests that have some coniferous trees in which they prefer to nest. During their migration, they seem to prefer feeding in low trees but as they get to their breeding ground, they move higher. That is when they give me a warbler neck. 

Warbler season is upon us. Be alert and see if you can find some of these colorful characters. Hear their songs at or the Merlin app by Cornell Ornithology, which also provides an ID of birds by description or photo or even by a song recording.