Did you see a YELLOW bird in Iowa?
I’m guessing you need some help figuring out which species you saw. Well, you’ve come to the right place!
Today, we will review 19 types of birds that are YELLOW in Iowa.
To help you make an identification, I have included several photographs of each species and detailed range maps.*
#1. American Goldfinch
- Spinus tristis
- Adults are 3.9-4.7 in (10-12 cm) long and weigh 0.4-0.7 oz (11-20 g).
- In summer, males are a vivid yellow with a black cap and black wings. Females are a duller yellow without a black cap.
- Both sexes look the same in winter and turn a pale brown/olive color. They’re identified by their black wings and white wing bar.
These small yellow birds are prevalent in Iowa.
American Goldfinch Range Map
American Goldfinches are one of the most commonly seen backyard birds. So if you have yellow birds in your backyard, it’s likely it was an American Goldfinch!
To attract these yellow birds, include bird feeders specially designed for goldfinches since they’re easily scared off by larger “bullies.” Goldfinches appreciate having places that only they can use! Interestingly, seeds from garden plants and bird feeders make up their entire diet since they’re strict vegetarians.
One of my favorite traits about these birds is that they can feed in any position, even upside down.
#2. Wilson’s Warbler
- Cardellina pusilla
- Adults are 3.9-4.7 in (10-12 cm) long and weigh 0.2-0.3 oz (6-8 g).
- 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. Look for their distinct small and round black cap, resembling a toupee! Females may have dark spots or a greenish wash on their heads, but only the males have the black cap.
Unlike most yellow birds in Iowa, Wilson’s Warblers are more comfortable on the ground or the forest understory. As a result, they’re easier to spot without craning your neck! They often nest on the ground, concealed in shrubs at forest edges.
#3. American Yellow Warbler
- Setophaga petechia
- Adults are 4.7-5.1 in (12-13 cm) long and weigh 0.3-0.4 oz (9-11 g).
- Lemon-yellow across the whole body, with light chestnut streaks on the chest. Males are brighter than females.
These bright yellow birds are found all over Iowa.
American Yellow Warblers are frequent victims of brood parasitic Brown-headed Cowbirds, that lay their eggs inside the nests 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 yellow bird you shouldn’t have trouble finding.
#4. Myrtle Warbler
- Setophaga coronata 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 wing are yellow.
Myrtle Warblers, also called Yellow-Rumped Warblers, are named for the bright yellow patch above their tails.
There are two subspecies of this warbler, the Myrtle Warbler, and the Audubon’s Warbler. Only the Myrtle subspecies lives in Iowa.
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.
Myrtle Warblers are the most versatile foragers of the warblers in Iowa.
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 Myrtle 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.
#5. Nashville Warbler
- Leiothlypis ruficapilla
- Adults are 4.3-5.1 in (11-13 cm) long and weigh 0.2-0.5 oz (6-14 g).
- Their coloring is yellow below with gray upper parts and a white patch near the legs.
Nashville Warblers are easily identified by their gray hood, which is present in both males and females. These yellow birds have the interesting habit of using porcupine quills in their nest bedding. I can’t imagine they make a comfortable mattress!
Look for Nashville Warblers during migration, when they often travel in mixed flocks. Chickadees, titmice, and kinglets are all frequent traveling companions!
#6. Common Yellowthroat
- Geothlypis trichas
- Adults are 4.3-5.1 in (11-13 cm) long and weigh 0.3 oz (9-10 g).
- 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 male has a distinctive black mask that sets it apart from other yellow birds in Iowa.
Like most warblers, Common Yellowthroats migrate at night during the fall. Nighttime migration helps them 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 patience, you might also catch a flock in migration at night, visible against a full moon.
#7. Evening Grosbeak
- Coccothraustes vespertinus
- Adults are 6.3-7.1 in (16-18 cm) long and weigh 1.9-2.6 oz (54-74 g).
- Both sexes have a large, thick, conical beak and are the size of an American Robin.
- Males are yellow and black with a prominent white patch on the wings and a bright yellow stripe over the eye.
- Females are mostly gray with white and black wings and a greenish-yellow tinge on their neck and sides.
Evening Grosbeaks are one of the most beautiful yellow birds in Iowa!
Typically, Evening Grosbeaks are found in the northern coniferous forests, and in winter, they can be found pretty much anywhere in Iowa as they search for food.
Evening Grosbeaks are known for their large and strong beak. They use their robust beaks to crack open shells that other birds cannot open.
Evening Grosbeak Range Map
This species will occasionally show up at feeders in Iowa, south of their normal winter range, which provides a treat for backyard birders. You can attract them with sunflower seeds placed onto a large platform feeder, allowing ample room for them to land and eat.
#8. Yellow-Breasted Chat
- Icteria virens
- Adults are 7.1 in (18 cm) long and weigh 0.8-1.1 oz (23-31 g).
- Olive-gray on the back with a bright yellow breast and white lower body.
- These yellow birds are larger and bulkier than most warblers, with an especially long tail and big head.
Yellow-Breasted Chats are easily identified by the white “spectacles” around their eyes.
These songbirds prefer living in the dense vegetation of thickets and brambles. You’re most likely to see or hear a Yellow-Breasted Chat in the spring since they’re silent and shy during the rest of the year.
Pay close attention to exposed perches on power lines and in trees to spot this yellow bird in southeastern Iowa.
#9. Magnolia Warbler
- Setophaga magnolia
- Adults are 4.3-5.1 in (11-13 cm) long and weigh 0.2-0.5 oz (6-14 g).
- Males have yellow chests and bellies with bold black stripes, a black mask with white “eyebrows,” and black and white wings.
- Females are similarly patterned but much paler.
Magnolia Warblers have the most distinctive color pattern of any yellow bird in Iowa!
To identify this species, look for the stripey pattern of yellow, gray, black, and white. Males have a black mask and white eyebrows, while females have a less-prominent gray cap.
This species spends winters south of the U.S. in the Caribbean and Mexico. Then, it travels nearly the entire way through the country to get to its northern breeding grounds!
#10. Northern Parula
- Setophaga americana
- Adults are 4.3-4.7 in (11-12 cm) long and weigh 0.2-0.4 oz (6-11 g).
- Males are blue-gray above and white below, with yellow patches on the chest and back.
- Females are similarly patterned but paler.
Northern Parulas live in forests with hanging mosses like Spanish moss and beard lichen. They use these plants as nest bedding and spend most of their time high in the forest canopy. So looking for these little birds can easily give you a case of “warbler neck!”
Even though this yellow bird doesn’t visit feeders much in Iowa, it may still visit yards with native plants and a water source during migration. So, if you have a fountain or birdbath with a bubbler, keep an eye out for Northern Parulas!
#11. Yellow-headed Blackbird
- Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus
- Adults are 8.3-10.2 in (21-26 cm) long and weigh 1.6-3.5 oz (45-99 g).
- Males are unmistakable and feature a bright yellow head and breast that contrasts against a black body. They also have distinct white wing patches.
- Females are brown overall. They can be identified from other blackbird species by looking for dull yellow plumage on their chest, face, and throat. You can also see faint white streaks extending down the breast if you look closely.
During the breeding season, look for Yellow-headed Blackbirds in wetlands, where they raise their young. Females build nests in reeds directly over the water, and males aggressively defend their territories from other males and predators.
Yellow-headed Blackbird Range Map
These birds often share the same habitat as Red-winged Blackbirds. However, Yellow-headed Blackbirds are typically dominant and get to choose the prime nesting locations.
During winter, look for these birds gathering in huge flocks that forage in farm fields and other agricultural areas for grains and weed seeds. These massive groups often consist of multiple blackbird species.
#12. Blue-Winged Warbler
- Vermivora cyanoptera
- Adults are 4.3-4.7 in (11-12 cm) tall and weigh up to 0.3 oz (9 g).
- Males are a beautiful bright yellow with contrasting gray-blue wings and a black eye streak.
- Females are slightly lighter yellow with a gray eye streak.
Look for Blue-Winged Warblers in abandoned fields at the edge of forests.
This beautiful bird gets its name from its blue-gray wings, especially visible against its yellow body. If you live on the edge of a mature forest, you may even spot the Blue-Winged Warbler in your yard!
Although this species primarily eats insects, it is a generalist and will change its diet based on what is available. For example, the Blue-Winged Warbler might dine on spiders almost exclusively during one season and switch to aphids the next season if they’re more plentiful. This little bird isn’t picky!
#13. Canada Warbler
- Cardellina canadensi
- Adults are 4.7-5.9 in (12-15 cm) long and weigh 0.3-0.5 oz (9-14 g).
- Their coloring is slate gray above, yellow below, and they have a black “necklace” of streaks around their throat.
Look for Canada Warblers in mixed forests with a dense, shrubby understory. They’re most often found where rhododendrons are growing.
This species has two striking features that help to distinguish it from other yellow birds in Iowa. The bright whitish eye-rings give this bird a permanently surprised expression, and its “necklace” of black markings helps it stand out among its relatives. These features are most evident in males, and while females have a necklace, it generally isn’t as defined or dark.
#14. Mourning Warbler
- Geothlypis philadelphia
- Adults are 3.9-5.9 in (10-15 cm) long and weigh 0.4-0.5 oz (11-14 g).
- They are yellow underneath and olive-green above, with a gray hood in females and a near-black hood in males.
The easiest way to identify this yellow bird in Iowa is by its gray or black “hood.”
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, forming a solid mask.
Look for Mourning Warblers in dense second-growth forests. For example, you might spot one on a less-traveled hiking path in the thick of a forest.
#15. Prothonotary Warbler
- Protonotaria citrea
- Adults are up to 5.1 in (13 cm) long and weigh up to 0.44 oz (12 g).
- Lemon-yellow bodies and heads with blue-gray wings. Males have an orange cast on the head.
- Black eyes, beak, and legs.
Instead of using the ground or a low bush, Prothonotary Warblers build nests in unused woodpecker holes or tree cavities. Look for these yellow birds in Iowa in mature forests near densely forested streams. You may catch one foraging on the bank for insects and snails!
These yellow birds are also distinctive while in flight because of their two-toned tail feathers. The base of the tail is white, and the tips are dark gray.
#16. Eastern Meadowlark
- Sturnella manga
- Adults are 7.5-10.2 in (19-26 cm) long and weigh 3.2-5.3 oz (90-150 g).
- Their mottled brown, gray, and white back is effective camouflage for foraging in dirt and dry grass.
- From below, you can see their bright lemon-yellow bellies and throats and the bold black band on their chest.
You’re most likely to find an Eastern Meadowlark in farmland or grassy meadows.
These yellow birds forage insects in the dry grass and dirt clods of open fields. Typically, when Eastern Meadowlarks aren’t foraging, they perch on telephone wires or lampposts.
In addition to spotting Eastern Meadowlarks near farms and meadows, you can attract them to your yard by offering food. Try placing cracked corn and hulled sunflower seeds in a tray on the ground, which is their preferred feeding location.
It can be difficult to tell the difference between Eastern and Western Meadowlarks. The easiest way to differentiate these two yellow birds in Iowa is by location. Their ranges rarely overlap, but Eastern and Western Meadowlarks fight over territory where they can both be found.
#17. Western Meadowlark
- Sturnella neglecta
- Adults are 6.3-10.2 in (16-26 cm) long and weigh 3.1-4.1 oz (88-116 g).
- The black, brown, and white coloring on their backs is used as camouflage while they forage on the ground.
- A yellow belly and throat with a distinctive black V on the chest make this yellow bird easy to identify from above.
Western Meadowlarks frequent meadows, grasslands, roadsides, and marshes. During winter, they sometimes join mixed flocks of other blackbirds. So if you see a flash of pale yellow or light brown in a crowd of starlings, it may be a Western Meadowlark!
Although they look nearly identical to Eastern Meadowlarks, they rarely cross-breed. Therefore, the easiest way to differentiate these two yellow birds in Iowa is by location. Their ranges seldom overlap, but where they can both be found, Eastern and Western Meadowlarks will fight over territory.
#18. Yellow-Throated Warbler
- Setophaga dominica
- Adults are 5.1-5.5 in (13-14 cm) long and weigh 0.3-0.4 oz (9-11 g).
- Their coloring is gray, black, and white with a bright yellow throat.
Yellow-Throated Warblers in southeastern Iowa prefer tall trees with an open understory. You’ll have the most luck finding this yellow bird in pine and cypress forests.
In comparison with other warbler species, Yellow-Throated Warblers have a reduced range. They spend their breeding season farther south and winter farther north than most of their relatives, and individuals in the middle of their range have been known to skip migration altogether!
#19. Cape May Warbler
- Setophaga tigrina
- Adults are 4.7-5.1 in (12-13 cm) long and weigh 0.4-0.5 oz (11-14 g).
- Yellow, olive green, and brown with a red eye patch.
Look for these yellow birds in Iowa 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 nine 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.
What types of yellow birds in Iowa have you seen?
Let us know in the comments!
*The maps are generously provided with permission from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I visit this site often to learn even more about interesting species!