What kinds of warblers can you find in Montana?
I’m always amazed at the variety of colors, sizes, and songs of warblers in Montana. 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.
14 Warblers in Montana:
- 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 4.7 to 5.5 inches 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 Montana. 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 Montana.
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 3.9 to 4.7 inches 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 Montana, 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 3.9 to 7.1 inches 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 4.3 to 5.5 inches 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 Montana!
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 4.8 to 5.3 inches 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 4.3-5.1 inches 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 Montana. 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 4.3 to 5.1 inches 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 Montana.
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 4.5 to 5.1 inches 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 Montana!
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 4 to 5.9 inches 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 1.2 miles 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 4.3 to 6.3 inches 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 Montana. 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 4.5 inches 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. Blackpoll Warbler
- Setophaga striata
- Adults are 4.9 to 5.9 inches 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.
#13. MacGillivray’s Warbler
- Geothlypis tolmiei
- Adults are 3.9 to 5.9 inches 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.”
#14. Townsend’s Warbler
- Setophaga townsendi
- Adults are 4.5 to 5 inches 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.
Do you need help identifying or attracting warblers in Montana?
Here are a few resources that can help!
How many of these warblers have you seen before in Montana?
Leave a comment below!
To learn more about birds in Montana, check out my other guides!
27 Types of WATER BIRDS That Live in Montana(Ducks, herons, loons, etc.)
22 Types of BIRDS OF PREY That are Found in Montana! (Hawks, owls, eagles, etc.)