• Female.
  • Male. Note: orange throat and dark auriculars.

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Blackburnian Warbler

Dendroica fusca
Members of this diverse group make up more than half of the bird species worldwide. Most are small. However their brains are relatively large and their learning abilities are greater than those of most other birds. Passerine birds are divided into two suborders, the suboscines and the oscines. Oscines are capable of more complex song, and are considered the true songbirds. In Washington, the tyrant flycatchers are the only suboscines; the remaining 27 families are oscines.
This large group of small, brightly colored songbirds is a favorite of many birdwatchers. Wood-warblers, usually called “warblers” for short by Americans, are strictly a New World family. Most of the North American members of this group are migratory, returning in the winter to the tropics where the family originated. Warblers that nest in the understory tend to have pink legs and feet, while those that inhabit the treetops usually have black legs and feet. North American males are typically brightly colored, many with patches of yellow. Most North American warblers do not molt into a drab fall/winter plumage; the challenge posed to those trying to identify warblers in the fall results from looking at mostly juvenile birds. Their songs are generally dry, unmusical, often complex whistles (“warbles”). Warblers that live high in the treetops generally have higher-pitched songs than those that live in the understory. Warblers eat insects gleaned from foliage or captured in the air. Many supplement their insect diet with some seeds and fruit, primarily in fall and winter, and some also eat nectar. Most are monogamous. The female usually builds the nest and incubates four to five eggs for up to two weeks. Both members of the pair feed the young.

    General Description

    The adult male Blackburnian Warbler in breeding plumage is instantly recognizable by the bright red-orange of the throat, upper breast, and face, where it surrounds a dark triangular ear patch. The coloration quickly fades into the white lower breast. Otherwise the bird is mostly black-and-white: sides strongly streaked black, large white wing patch, dark back with white streaks. Adult females and non-breeding males are similar in general pattern but less boldly marked and with a more subdued, yellow-orange coloration. First-fall females, the dullest of all, are gray and yellow in appearance, but even then the facial pattern and broad, pale-yellow eyebrow are good identification clues.

    Closely tied to boreal hemlock forests, this songbird breeds from eastern Alberta to Atlantic Canada, the upper Midwest, New England, and south in the eastern mountains to the Carolinas. Its migration route takes it across the Gulf of Mexico in direct flight to and from winter grounds in the humid conifer forests of South America. It is a casual vagrant in the Northwest. Washington has four accepted records—two from the Eastside in spring and two in fall from west of the Cascades. British Columbia’s six records occurred from 5 June to 29 August. Idaho has about five records, mostly in fall. Oregon also has five records, two in fall and three in spring, all but one of them from east of the Cascades.

    Revised November 2007

    North American Range Map

    North America map legend

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