What kinds of warblers can you find in British Columbia?
I’m always amazed at the variety of colors, sizes, and songs of warblers in British Columbia. It seems impossible that all these little vocalists are related!
Whether you’re a casual observer in your local woods or an avid birder expanding your life list, warblers are a welcome sight (and sound!) on a hike.
21 Warblers in British Columbia:
- The range maps below were generously shared with permission from Birds of the World, published by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I use their site OFTEN to learn new information about birds!
#1. Yellow-Rumped Warbler
- Setophaga coronata
- Adults are 12 to 14 centimeters long and weigh 12 to 13 grams.
- Gray, with white wing bars and black on the chest. Patches on the rump and under the wings are yellow.
Yellow-Rumped Warblers are named for the bright yellow patch above their tails.
There are two subspecies of this warbler in British Columbia. They are closely related but can be distinguished by their throat patch, which is yellow in Audubon’s Warblers and white in Myrtle Warblers.
They are an active species known for catching insects in midair. During winter, they visit feeders with sunflower seeds, raisins, suet, and peanut butter. They also eat winter berries.
Yellow-Rumped Warblers are the most versatile foragers of all warblers in British Columbia.
They often search for food in trees but will venture to the ground to forage in leaf debris, and they’ve been known to pick through seaweed in coastal areas!
Listen for the Yellow-Rumped Warbler’s loud, clear song, which sounds like “tsee-tsee-TSEE-TSEE-tsee.” It starts soft at the beginning, gets louder in the middle, and then ends quietly.
#2. Wilson’s Warbler
- Cardellina pusilla
- Adults are 9 to 12 centimeters long and weigh 5 to 10 grams.
- Greenish and yellow coloring across the body, with gray-brown wings. Males have a black cap.
The males of this species also have a unique feature that makes them easy to spot. Their black cap is small and round, resembling a toupee! Females may have dark spots or a greenish wash on their heads, but only the males have the black cap.
Unlike other warblers in British Columbia, Wilson’s Warblers are more comfortable on the ground or in the forest understory. This makes them easier to spot without craning your neck! They often nest on the ground, concealed in shrubs at forest edges.
Wilson’s Warblers make a high-pitched “tchee-tchee-tchee-tchee” noise when singing. It’s quick and repeated often.
#3. American Yellow Warbler
- Setophaga petechia
- Adults are 10 to 18 centimeters long and weigh 7 to 25 grams.
- Lemon-yellow across the whole body, with light chestnut streaks on the chest. Males are somewhat brighter than females.
Listen for this species in moist forests of small trees. Its particular favorite nesting habitat is willow groves.
American Yellow Warblers are frequent victims of brood parasitic Brown-headed Cowbirds, who lay their eggs inside the nest of these warblers! But they have a unique way of combating this. They’re known to build a new nest directly on top of their old one, smothering their eggs in addition to the cowbirds’ eggs. As a result, researchers have found nests up to six layers deep!
With its bright yellow coloring and relatively large population, this is one warbler you shouldn’t have trouble finding. The song of the American Yellow Warbler is said to sound like “sweet, sweet, sweet; I’m so sweet!”
#4. American Redstart
- Setophaga ruticilla
- Adults are 11 to 14 centimeters long and weigh an average of 8.6 grams.
- Males are black with bright red-orange patches on the tail, wings, and sides. The belly is white.
- Females are charcoal gray with a white belly and light yellow patches instead of red-orange.
The American Redstarts’ abundance and bright coloring make them one of the more easily spotted warblers in British Columbia!
This beautiful species is high-energy and constantly moving. American Redstarts use their bright coloring to hunt insects, flashing their tail feathers to startle them into flight. Once the insect takes off, the bird snatches it right out of the air! That’s one stylish way to “catch” a meal! 🙂
The American Redstart song is often compared to a sneeze, with a few short notes at the beginning and an abrupt, loud end: “ah-ah-ah-CHEW!”
#5. Orange-Crowned Warbler
- Leiothlypis celata
- Adults are 12 to 14 centimeters tall and weigh an average of 9 grams.
- Their coloring is mottled yellow-green and gray, with gray wing bars.
Unless you’re fortunate and highly observant, you may never see the orange patch that gives the Orange-Crowned Warbler its name! It’s only visible when the “crest” feathers are raised, so catching a glimpse of this tiny bit of color is nearly impossible.
Its high, trilling song lasts about one second and is repeated often. It dips in pitch slightly at the end.
#6. Nashville Warbler
- Leiothlypis ruficapilla
- Adults are 11 to 13 centimeters long and weigh up to 13.9 grams.
- Their coloring is yellow below with gray upperparts and a white patch near the legs.
Nashville Warblers have two completely separate breeding areas that don’t overlap! The western population was once considered a distinct species, called the Calaveras Warbler, and generally has a brighter yellow color with a larger white patch.
Nashville Warblers are one of the longest-lived warblers in British Columbia. The oldest known individual was aged ten years and two months!
One way to identify the Nashville Warbler is to think of a beverage often enjoyed in Nashville; its song sounds like “sipa sipa sipa sipa tea-tea-tea-tea!” 🙂
#7. Common Yellowthroat
- Geothlypis trichas
- Adults are 11 to 13 centimeters long and weigh an average of 8.5 grams.
- Males and females have distinctly different coloring; although both sexes are yellow and gray, males have a black mask on the eyes that sets them apart.
One look at a male Common Yellowthroat will tell you why this species is also called the Yellow Bandit! The males’ distinctive black eye markings set it apart from other warblers in British Columbia.
Like most warblers, Common Yellowthroats migrate at night during the fall. Nighttime migration helps warblers avoid predators and poor weather conditions like excessive heat and wind.
An advantage for bird enthusiasts is that these species are much easier to spot during migration while resting during the day! With a bit of patience, you might also catch a flock in migration at night, visible against a full moon.
Common Yellowthroats have a distinctive song that’s easy to recognize. Listen for “witchety-witchety-witchety” repeated up to 300 times an hour!
#8. Black-and-White Warbler
- Mniotilta varia
- Adults are 11 to 13 centimeters tall and weigh up to 8 grams.
- Their coloring is black and white, with white eyebrows and two black streaks and a middle white streak on the head.
- The body coloring is streaked black and white, with black wings and two white wing bars.
Black-and-White Warblers are one of the most striking warblers in British Columbia!
Their contrasting black and white streaks make them look like they’ve been painted in zebra print. Both males and females have black and white streaks on their heads and white eyebrows with a black bar underneath.
Look for this warbler in mature forests with a mix of deciduous and coniferous trees. Black-and-White Warblers have also been known to live in swampy forests in the southern part of their range.
Like most other warblers, they eat insects and spiders, but they’re unique in how they forage. Instead of picking through leaf litter on the ground, these talented birds walk up and down tree trunks searching for tasty bites in the bark!
Black-and-White Warbler song is high and clear, sounding like “weesa weesa weetee weetee weetee weet weet weet.”
#9. Northern Waterthrush
- Parkesia noveboracensis
- Adults are 11 to 15 centimeters tall and have a wingspan up to 9.5 inches.
- The body shape is small and round with a flat head.
- Their coloring is brown above with a cream belly and black streaks. A streak above the eye is usually cream but sometimes white.
Look for Northern Waterthrush near calm water like ponds, small lakes, or deep swamps. They’re almost always found near water, even while they’re migrating.
The Northern Waterthrush eats insects and snails from the ground and nests close to the ground in tree trunks or root tangles.
This species has the fascinating habit of “commuting” from its roosting site to a foraging area during winter! They travel up to 1.9 kilometers to feed and then return to their nest at the end of the day.
Listen for their call, a loud, short “spwik” noise, or their song, which is a series of chirps that fall in pitch at the end.
- Seiurus aurocapilla
- Adults are 11 to 16 centimeters tall and have a wingspan up to 10 inches.
- Their coloring is olive-brown with a white belly. The chest is streaked with black. The head has an orange streak in between two black streaks.
- They are plump at the start of migration but thin-bodied when they return from winter.
Ovenbirds are often mistaken for thrushes because they’re larger than most other warblers. Look for this species in deciduous forests with closed canopies, its preferred breeding habitat.
This species spends more time on the ground than most other warblers in British Columbia. They even place their nests, called “ovens” because of their domed shape, on the ground! They eat snails and insects on the forest floor, foraging with a jerky walk.
Ovenbirds migrate south for the winter and occasionally have crossed the Atlantic Ocean! They have been found in Ireland, Great Britain, and Norway. That’s a long way from home for such a tiny bird!
Male and female Ovenbirds look and sound similar. Their main song is a repeated “chur-TEE, chur-TEE, chur-TEE” without long pauses.
#11. Tennessee Warbler
- Leiothlypis peregrina
- Adults are up to 11 centimeters tall and weigh an average of 10 grams.
- Males have white undersides and gray wings, with a yellow back. The head is gray, with a white eyebrow and gray eye streak.
- Females are yellow-green with gray wings. The undersides are usually white, sometimes with a yellow wash.
Surprisingly, Tennessee Warblers don’t breed OR spend their winters in Tennessee!
This species was named for an individual collected there, probably during migration.
The Tennessee Warbler kept its confusing name because of its nondescript appearance. If we were to call it something based on its looks, it might be the “Typical Warbler” or “Small Grayish Songbird” :-).
Even though its looks are plain, the Tennessee Warbler’s song is anything but! It has a high-pitched, clear, chirping song that starts slow and gains speed toward the end. It sounds like they’re trying to rush to finish the song before being cut off!
#12. Mourning Warbler
- Geothlypis philadelphia
- Adults are 11 to 13 centimeters long and weigh 11 to 13 grams.
- They are yellow underneath and olive-green above, with a gray hood in females and near-black in males.
The easiest way to identify Mourning Warblers in British Columbia is to look at their eyes.
While many similar species have white eye-rings or markings, the black eyes of the Mourning Warbler blend into the dark hood coloring on their head. Look for Mourning Warblers in dense second-growth forests.
Mourning Warblers might be considered a bit of a picky eater! They have the unusual habit of removing the legs and wings of insects before they eat them. Occasionally, they eat plant material like berries and seeds, but insects make up most of their diet.
Mourning Warblers are also known to have a more musical, pleasant voice than some of their closest relatives. Listen for a bright song: “chirry, chirry, chirry, chorry, chorry.”
#13. Magnolia Warbler
- Setophaga magnolia
- Adults are 11 to 13 centimeters tall and weigh 6 to 12.5 grams.
- Yellow, gray, and black with white patches.
Magnolia Warblers are generally small but have relatively long tails for their size. To identify this species, look for a white patch near the base of the tail and black tail-feather tips. Males have a black mask and white eyebrow, while females have a less-prominent gray cap.
This species spends winters south of the U.S. in the Caribbean and Mexico. It travels nearly the entire way through the country to get to its northern breeding grounds!
Like many other warblers, this species has two different types of songs: one is used for courtship and mating, and the other is used to mark their territory. Both are three short notes accented at the end, but the territory call is more musical.
#14. Bay-Breasted Warbler
- Setophaga castanea
- Adults are 13 to 16 centimeters long and weigh on average 12.5 grams.
- Males are black and white, with ruddy chestnut markings on the head and chest.
- Females are olive-green with white and brown wings.
Bay-Breasted Warblers live primarily in mature conifer forests. They spend much of their breeding season in the boreal forest, where they are numerous and easy to find. However, they’re solitary and not as easy to spot during their migration.
Bay-Breasted Warblers in British Columbia are specialist predators of spruce budworms, a caterpillar native to their range. The population of this warbler has been known to fluctuate depending on the budworms’ population. Sometimes it will disappear entirely from an area if food is scarce. However, the warbler population can rebound into the thousands during budworm outbreaks!
Listen for their clear, loud song, which sounds like “tsee-tsee-TSEE.”
#15. Blackpoll Warbler
- Setophaga striata
- Adults are 11 to 15 centimeters long and weigh 12 to 15 grams.
- Their coloring is black, white, and gray. A black cap, white cheeks, and gray-barred wings are typical.
The Blackpoll Warbler’s song is so high-pitched it’s sometimes called nature’s hearing test! The fast, chipping song can easily be confused for an insect. It lasts about three seconds and sounds like “tsit tsit TSIT TSIT tsit tsit.”
Blackpoll Warblers travel huge distances between their breeding grounds and their winter habitat for such small birds. They can fly nonstop for up to three days over the open ocean to their winter home!
This migration takes a combination of endurance, food stores, and prevailing wind that pushes them toward their destination. It’s truly an incredible feat!
To help this little bird with its annual trip, consider planting native trees or bushes that the warblers can use as a resting and foraging stop.
#16. MacGillivray’s Warbler
- Geothlypis tolmiei
- Adults are 10 to 15 centimeters long and weigh an average of 14.5 grams.
- Coloring is yellow to olive green on the body, with a blue-gray hood.
- Males are brighter in color, with a black patch on the eye. Females lack the black patch and have a lighter gray hood.
They move in sudden, bursting hops along the forest floor. MacGillivray’s Warblers definitely aren’t the most agile birds you’ll see!
They’re quite easy to spot during migration, resting in dense thickets during the day. Their cheerful call and bright patterned coloring make them a welcome sight on a hike.
The MacGillivray’s Warbler song is trilling and high, with an inflection near the middle: “jeet jeet JEET jeet jeet.”
#17. Cape May Warbler
- Setophaga tigrina
- Adults are 12 to 15 centimeters long and weigh 9 to 17 grams.
- Yellow, olive green, and brown with a red eye patch.
Look for Cape May Warblers in northeastern British Columbia at the edge of coniferous woods. They prefer to nest near the trunk of black spruce trees. Cape May Warblers lay the most eggs of any warbler, up to 9 in a single brood!
This species eats spruce budworm, a type of caterpillar plentiful in their breeding area. The spruce budworm is an extremely destructive pest to spruce-fir forests, so Cape May Warblers are essential to their ecosystem!
The reddish patch near the eye on males of the species is a sure sign you’ve seen a Cape May Warbler. On both male and female birds, look for a tiger-striped yellow belly and white bars on the black and yellow wings.
Their clear, high song sounds like “tsee-tsee-TSEE-TSEE,” starting soft and getting louder at the end.
#18. Palm Warbler
- Setophaga palmarum
- Adults are 12 to 14 centimeters long and weigh 12 to 15 grams.
- The coloring is generally a mix of olive, yellow, and white, but is varied between the eastern and western subspecies.
Look for Palm Warblers in northeastern British Columbia in open, weedy fields with scattered trees and bushes.
This species is one of few warblers that displays very different plumage based on location. Yellow or Eastern Palm Warblers have a lemon-yellow body and an olive back in the east. Western Palm Warblers, in contrast, have a white to brown base color with a yellow patch on the chest. Both subspecies have distinctive rust-colored caps during the breeding season.
Despite their varied appearance, Palm Warblers’ songs are similar across the continent: a loud, buzzy trilling noise.
#19. Townsend’s Warbler
- Setophaga townsendi
- Adults are 11 to 13 centimeters long and weigh an average of 8.8 grams.
- Black, white, and yellow coloring on both males and females. Their cheek patch is black in males, and dark olive in females.
Look for this species in mature conifer woods with brushy undergrowth. During the fall migration and over winter, you may attract Townsend’s Warblers to your feeders when the temperature is below freezing. Offer high-energy foods like suet, peanut butter, and mealworms.
Listen for their buzzy, trilling song, which has been said to have a dreamy, sweet quality.
#20. Connecticut Warbler
- Oporornis agilis
- Adults are 13 to 15 centimeters long and weigh an average of 15 grams.
- They have a distinct two-toned pattern, a whitish-gray head and neck, and a yellow body.
- Their white eye-rings give them a wide-eyed, surprised look.
Connecticut Warblers are infamously challenging to find in British Columbia!
They’re secretive, shy birds with a short song and unobtrusive habits.
This species prefers remote bogs and deciduous forests, far from human interaction. Connecticut Warblers are also relatively solitary birds, and it’s unusual to find them in pairs or groups except during fall migration. Because of its secretive nature and remote habitat, only one study of a nesting pair has ever been done.
If you find a Connecticut Warbler in the wild, consider yourself lucky to add it to your life list!
Its song is a high and musical “chippy-chuppy, chippy-chuppy, chippy-chuppy,” repeated often.
#21. Black-Throated Gray Warbler
- Setophaga nigrescens
- Adults are up to 13 centimeters long and weigh an average of 8.5 grams.
- They are gray with black streaks and a white underside. They have a single yellow dot in the corner of the eye.
Though they aren’t as well-studied as other warblers in British Columbia, they can be recognized by their yellow eye dot and black and white streaky coloring. Females are smaller, plumper, and have larger heads than males.
Even though Black-throated Gray Warblers are approachable and easy to observe, almost nothing aside from their appearance is known about them.
If you don’t live in its range but think you’ve spotted one of these distinctive birds, you’re probably right! Black-Throated Gray Warblers live west of the Rocky Mountains, but a few get blown off course every year and end up in the eastern US!
Listen for Black-Throated Gray Warblers singing their “zeedle zeedle zeedle zeet-chee” song.
Do you need help identifying or attracting warblers in British Columbia?
Here are a few resources that can help!
How many of these warblers have you seen before in British Columbia?
Leave a comment below!
To learn more about birds in British Columbia, check out my other guides!
20 Types of WATER BIRDS That Live in British Columbia(Ducks, herons, loons, etc.)
20 Types of BIRDS OF PREY That are Found in British Columbia! (Hawks, owls, eagles, etc.)