Yellow Warbler Adventure

Yellow Warbler on nest, Wisconsin

Yellow Warbler on nest, Wisconsin

Yellow warblers are a sunshine-bright New World warbler.  They frequent willow and cottonwood thickets near streams, swamps, and marshes.


On a recent Sunday I was on the trails of the Horicon Marsh (Wisconsin) at dawn, following the warbler’s subtle seet calls, hopeful to set eyes on this cheerful songbird.


A widespread bird, at this time of year Setophaga petechia are busy breeding in almost all of North America.  They winter in Central America and parts of South America, and migrate to North America in warm months.


Yellow Warbler, Belize

Yellow Warbler, Belize

See migration map below.


Their diet consists mainly of insects–moths, spiders, mosquitoes, mayflies, etc.


In the marshy thickets they prefer, they are busy snagging mosquitoes, and hovering underneath leaves foraging among spider webs.


In spite of their glaring bright color, these small birds (about five inches [12.7 cm] long) can be difficult to spot, due to their quick, flitting behavior, and surrounding thick foliage.


With 35 subspecies, some species have a slightly different physical appearance depending on the male in breeding.  The name consequently changes too.  The yellow warbler in Belize for instance, pictured here, is known there as the mangrove warbler.


More warbler info here.


Yellow Warbler, Wisconsin

Yellow Warbler, Wisconsin

While walking, I was alerted to the high-pitched chip (“seet”) sound.  I stayed focused on this sound, ignoring whining mosquitoes (best I could) and other flutey bird song.


There’s a mnemonic phrase that birders memorize for this warbler, and I heard it in the swampy woods.  It sounds (sort of) like the bird is saying, “sweet sweet sweet I’m so sweet.”


And they are so sweet…so I continued down the trail getting closer to the song.


Then she fluttered into my periphery and disappeared; appeared again, and vanished. I knew I was close, so I stood back a few feet and waited.


This time she perched on a nearby branch, looked around.  I noticed she wasn’t hunting.  Parents usually exhibit this behavior to make sure a predator isn’t watching.  Then she disappeared into an inconspicuous nest.


I was so excited to have spotted her nest, watched intently.  In this quiet little patch of forest, hidden in a tiny, neat cup of dried grass, warbler eggs were being carefully protected.


Two days later I was in the airport waiting for my delayed flight, surrounded by the noise, chaos, and crowds that is air travel in the summertime.


I sat thinking about the yellow warbler…that sweet and quiet yellow warbler mother, and her heroic and successful efforts to keep her brood safe.


Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

Yellow Warbler Range Map



44 thoughts on “Yellow Warbler Adventure

  1. Thoroughly interesting journal full of detail on the yellow warbler and thanks so much for sharing the info. I am sure I’ve seen a warbler in the PNW but they move so fast through the brush it’s like a sudden flashing blur making it difficult to identify the markings. We have a perfect environment for the warblers since there are lots of mosquitoes hanging out in the forest of cedar trees and nearby stream, a heavenly cool spot for the nasty bugs

    • I’m happy you know the yellow warbler, SWI, and their darting ways. It’s great to have a cheerful friend eating up the mosquitoes, isn’t it? Thanks for your comment, always a pleasure.

  2. How very sweet to locate this elusive little gem. The nest was an incredible bonus. Oddly enough I was busy in a similar pursuit just yesterday, trying to catch a glimpse (much less a photo) of our resident Wilson’s Warbler (we think) down at the new/old house. They sure manage to hide in plain sight. Though I did get some pretty good shots of a few leaves that have turned bright yellow! 😉

    • Yay, you have a Wilson’s Warbler nearby! Great to hear your adventure, Gunta. I thought of you while composing this post, and the wonderful bald eagle nest you’ve been enjoying. Thanks so much.

  3. Jet I am sitting here smiling. Smiling at the photos of the pretty yellow Warbler but most of all thinking about you at the airport. Isn’t it the way that when we travels sometimes the smallest things we take home with us brighten our world. Your description of the little nest and the mama keeping her brood safe in the forest warms my heart. The whine of mosquitoes however I could do with out. 🙂

    • And your smile brought me smiles, Sue, thanks so much. What a pleasure it is to share the forest and the airport scenes with you, my friend. I can imagine, from all your extensive travels, how many of those airport moments you and Dave are familiar with. Thanks so much for your wonderful and warm comment, Sue.

      • Always a pleasure Jet. I love airports! The anticipation of what is about to be discovered and the wonder reminiscing of magical memories. Even when things don’t go as planned such rich stories are left bouncing in my noggin. 🙂

  4. Sweet, beautiful yellow warbler! What a joy to see these small beauties. 🙂
    I have seen a few little birds with yellow color on their belly.

  5. I could see you patiently following the bird’s song, just as I do. 🙂 It is such fun! I’m still hoping to capture the Yellow Warbler some day, I’ve seen them but not in time with the camera!

  6. Pingback: Yellow Warbler Adventure — Jet Eliot – Journal Edge

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