A Bestiary: Part Twenty-two ~ Songbirds: Warblers ~ Magnolia Warbler


The terrace garden pottery was placed, somewhat, but not yet planted, when I eyed this beautiful and shy, male Magnolia Warbler kicking up leaves and other detritus left over from the former year. It is May 12, 2009 and this would be my first and only close-up encounter, here at Flower Hill Farm, of a Magnolia Warbler Setophaga magnolia. On May 5, 2011, I am able to capture a sketchy photograph of a breeding male Magnolia Warbler perched high in a Gray Birch, and as he flew away the moment that I noticed him, I could not observe his finely outlined eye, with a perfect brushstroke of white for an eyebrow and a bit of white eyeliner below or get a very focused shot of his wide, white wing-bars, though all did stand out enough, along with his yellow throat, to help me identify this little wood-warbler. There is a hint to his gray crown in the images below.

Magnolia Warbler (Setophaga magnolia)

Magnolia Warblers have a fully saturated yellow breast and belly with white covering the under tail. A necklace of ivory black is drawn just at the edge of the throat with dangling tendrils reaching down and along the sides of his yellow breast. This small songbird holds his white patched wings in such a way that we cannot see his brightly painted yellow rump. During the breeding season the rich black, white and yellows make for a very handsome fellow who was once nearly known as the ‘Black and Yellow’ Warbler.

Magnolia Warbler (Setophaga magnolia)

Boldly patterned stripes down his yellow breast mirror this male’s boldness in turning towards me and looking directly at my form (on the other side of the eight-foot-high sliding glass doors.) This is a rather fuzzy focus but the only image I have illustrating the characteristic black lines falling from his throat necklace.

Magnolia Warbler (Setophaga magnolia)

Alexander Wilson, who found or ‘collected’ the first passerine of this species, from a Mississippi magnolia tree, mistook it as related somehow to the magnolia and so named this medium sized warbler. When later understanding the warbler was just passing through on its migration route, he did suggest a more apt ‘Black and Yellow’ Warbler for its name but the current tag stuck then and now. You can see a video of Magnolia Warblers and hear the sweet songs by clicking here.

I feel certain I have also seen the immature or duller non breeding Magnolia Warblers here too, but they can be confusing to identify from the Nashville and Common Yellow-throat Warblers. Always look to the tail to come to an assessment, for the Magnolia Warbler is the only one of the three warblers to have white plumage within its tail feathers.

Magnolia Warblers prefer to breed within a younger stand of conifers, mostly fir or spruce, along parts of Virginia up towards the northeastern tips of the United States and into Canada. In the winter they are more versatile in their habitat of choice and may be sighted during migration in much of the eastern half of the country in a diversity of surroundings, as long as there are shrubs and trees. These striking warblers do not seem to like open fields. They settle down for the long winter in the tropics where if seen in a grouping of their own kind, they might be called a ‘corsage’ of warblers.




© 2013, Carol Duke. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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  1. Donna@Gardens Eye View says

    Carol I have never seen these particular warblers…they are beautiful and just such a cute little bird. I adore seeing the variety of wildlife that visits your beautiful spaces.
    Donna@Gardens Eye View recently posted..Three Years A Charm


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