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29 Yellow Birds in Kentucky

yellow birds in kentucky
Kentucky Warbler in Powell, Kentucky: Photo by Tyler Ficker

Introduction

From flashy wood-warblers to vivid tanagers, a variety of striking yellow-hued birds make their homes in the Bluegrass State. Their bright golden tones stand out brilliantly against Kentucky’s backdrops of forest, field, and wetland. Let’s explore some of the top yellow birds in Kentucky.

Great Crested Flycatcher (Myiarchus crinitus)

  • Features: This bulky insect-eating bird has a distinctly crested head and a lemon-yellow belly that contrasts with the olive-brown wings and back. The tail is rufous-colored with white outer tail feathers. Its large bill and loud “wheep” call are useful for catching flying insects and defending nest cavities. 
  • Locations: Found breeding in deciduous woodlands and riparian areas across Kentucky. Winters in the southern U.S. to Central America. 
  • Fun Fact: Weaves shed snakeskins into its nest, possibly to deter predators. 

Yellow-throated Vireo (Vireo flavifrons)

  • Features: This songbird has bright yellow throat and breast, with a gray head, greenish back, and white belly. The stout bill has a hooked tip. Sings a burry, lazy song of alternating short and long phrases. 
  • Locations: Breeds high in the canopy of mature deciduous forests across Kentucky. Winters in the tropics.
  • Fun Fact: One of the first migrants to return north in spring, making its nest in the fork of a branch. 

Blue-headed Vireo (Vireo solitarius)

  • Features: This vireo sports a blue-gray head and white spectacles contrasting its yellow-olive upperparts and white underparts. The thin bill has a hook at the end for gleaning insects from leaves. Sings a repetitive song with a sharp burry tone. 
  • Locations: Breeds in mature deciduous and mixed forests across Kentucky. Winters in Central and South America.   
  • Fun Fact: The female builds the hanging nest and incubates the eggs while the male brings food.

Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa

  • Features: One of North America’s smallest songbirds, this olive-gray kinglet has a black and white striped face framed by a bright orange-yellow crown stripe. Almost constantly active, it flits through branches gathering insects.
  • Locations: Found in coniferous and mixed forests across Kentucky. Winters further south. 
  • Fun Fact: The male performs an aerial display, singing while fluttering high above the canopy.

American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)

  • Features: This small seed-eating finch turns completely yellow in summer, contrasted by black wings, cap, and tail. The short conical bill allows it to crack open seeds. Undulating flight pattern. 
  • Locations: Found in weedy fields, meadows and other open areas with seed sources across Kentucky. Winters in large flocks.
  • Fun Fact: Nesting timed for peak seed abundance in mid-summer. The male displays by flying in slow, swooping arcs while singing a percussive melody. 

Yellow-breasted Chat (Icteria virens)

  • Features: This boldly patterned songbird has a bright yellow breast and throat, with a black mask, gray back, and white belly. The heavy bill indicates its insect-eating habits. Sings a loud eclectic mix of calls, whistles and snatches of other birds’ songs.
  • Locations: Found breeding in dense shrublands and thickets statewide. Winters in the tropics. 
  • Fun Fact: A skulker, more often heard than seen as it stays deep in cover. Will sing day and night.

Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna

  • Features: This robin-sized bird is streaked brown above with a black “V” on a bright yellow breast. The white outer tail feathers flash during flight. Sings a flute-like meadowlark song. 
  • Locations: Found breeding in grasslands and meadows statewide. Partially migratory, with some remaining in Kentucky year-round. 
  • Fun Fact: Males display over potential nest sites, singing while fluttering high with wings outstretched.  

Golden-winged Warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera)

  • Features: This small songbird has a bold black and white facial pattern set off by a yellow forehead and yellow patches on the wings. The male also has yellow shoulder patches. Forages actively for insects in shrubs and trees. 
  • Locations: Found breeding in young forests, shrublands, sometimes meadows. Winters in the tropics.
  • Fun Fact: Will hybridize with closely related blue-winged warblers where their ranges overlap.

Blue-winged Warbler (Vermivora cyanoptera

  • Features: A small songbird with white underparts, olive back, and black eye line. Males have small patches of blue-gray feathers on the wings. Forages low to the ground for insects.
  • Locations: Breeds in overgrown fields, meadows and open brushy areas across Kentucky. Winters in the tropics.
  • Fun Fact: Hops along the ground wagging its tail as it chases down insects.

Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea)

  • Features: This warbler has bright golden-yellow head and underparts contrasting with blue-gray wings and tail. The short pointed bill suits its diet of insects and spiders. Sings a loud, ringing “sweet-sweet-sweet-sweet.” 
  • Locations: Found breeding around wooded swamps and bottomlands statewide. Winters in the tropics.
  • Fun Fact: Nest sites in tree cavities or nest boxes near water. One of the only warblers to nest in holes.  

Tennessee Warbler (Leiothlypis peregrina

  • Features: This small warbler has subtle olive upperparts and white underparts with faint yellow tinge on the throat and breast. It constantly flicks its tail, showing off white outer tail feathers. Sings a rhythmic, buzzy song. 
  • Locations: Breeds in dense northern forests across Kentucky. Winters in the tropics.
  • Fun Fact: Long migrations for such a tiny songbird. Travels up to 4000 miles between wintering and breeding grounds.

Orange-crowned Warbler (Leiothlypis celata)

  • Features: Despite its name, this warbler lacks bright colors, appearing rather plain yellow-olive overall with indistinct wingbars. The orange crown feathers are rarely visible. Often cocks and lowers its tail. 
  • Locations: Breeds in shrubby areas statewide. Winters along the southern U.S. coast and southward.
  • Fun Fact: The male performs a unique courting display, pivoting side to side while leaning forward giving an exaggerated appearance. 

Nashville Warbler (Leiothlypis ruficapilla)

  • Features: This small warbler has muted yellow-olive upperparts and white underparts with subtle yellow on the throat, chest and belly. The male has a rusty-red cap. Forages methodically gleaning insects from leaves in shrubs and trees.  
  • Locations: Breeds in regenerating forests and shrublands across Kentucky. Winters from Mexico to South America. 
  • Fun Fact: The scientific name ruficapilla means “red-capped.” The bright cap is concealed during winter.

Connecticut Warbler (Oporornis agilis)

  • Features: This ground-dwelling warbler has a large gray head, yellow undersides and olive upperparts. Look for the bold white eye ring. Sings a loud, accelerating “chick-chee-chee” song from deep cover. 
  • Locations: Breeds in dense shrubby understory across northern Kentucky. Winters in South America.
  • Fun Fact: A rare, secretive species that walks on the ground flipping leaves to catch insects.

Mourning Warbler (Geothlypis philadelphia)  

  • Features: This medium-sized warbler has gray upperparts and black spots on a bright yellow throat and breast. It has a medium-length tail with white outer tail feathers visible in flight. 
  • Locations: Breeds in dense thickets and shrublands statewide. Winters in Central America.
  • Fun Fact: The male performs a spirited song flight display, singing as he flies up and floats down with tail fanned.

Kentucky Warbler (Geothlypis formosa)

  • Features: This warbler has a bright yellow throat and breast with black streaks, a yellow mask around the eyes and olive upperparts. Walks slowly on the forest floor flipping leaves to catch insects.
  • Locations: Breeds in moist, lowland forests statewide. Winters in the tropics. 
  • Fun Fact: Nests on the ground tucked into thick vegetation. The male sings a loud, ringing song, often described as “tea-tea-tea-tea.”

Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas) 

  • Features: This warbler has a black mask across its face and bright yellow underparts. The male’s black mask is bordered by white. It creeps through dense vegetation instead of hopping like other warblers.
  • Locations: Found breeding in thickets and overgrown fields statewide. Winters along the Gulf coast and southward.
  • Fun Fact: The male sings a loud, fast repetitive witchety-witchety-witchety song to defend his territory.

Hooded Warbler (Setophaga citrina)

  • Features: The male has a striking black hood and throat contrasting yellow face. Females are duller with a greenish hood. Sings a loud, whistled “ weep, weep, weep” song. 
  • Locations: Breeds in mature, shady deciduous woodlands statewide. Winters in the Caribbean and Central America.  
  • Fun Fact: Nests in the understory often near streams. The black bib fades after breeding until molting in late summer. 

Cape May Warbler (Setophaga tigrina)

  • Features: This warbler has a yellow face and throat with streaked black ear patches. Males have more pronounced chestnut stripes. They forage actively for insects, fluttering to pick items from leaves high in trees.
  • Locations: Breeds across northern Kentucky. Winters in the West Indies. 
  • Fun Fact: Feeds heavily on spruce budworm caterpillars on breeding grounds.

Magnolia Warbler (Setophaga magnolia)

  • Features: This warbler sports a gray back, black-streaked yellow underparts, and black necklace. Males have black masking around the eyes and throat. The tail flashes white in flight. 
  • Locations: Breeds in coniferous and mixed forests across Kentucky. Winters in Central America.
  • Fun Fact: Sings a buzzy, musical “chick-brrr” song, with the “brrr” descending in pitch.

Bay-breasted Warbler (Setophaga castanea)

  • Features: This small warbler has a yellow face and nape, black crown, gray back, white belly and rusty red sides. The pointed bill suits its insectivorous habits.
  • Locations: Breeds in northern forests. Winters in northern South America. Migrates across Kentucky seasonally.  
  • Fun Fact: Irrupts south some years when spruce budworm outbreaks allow huge numbers to thrive.

Blackburnian Warbler (Setophaga fusca

  • Features: This wood-warbler has bright orange-yellow throat and face with black streaking, set off by greenish back and white belly. The male’s orange throat flame is intensely colored. 
  • Locations: Breeds in mature eastern forests statewide. Winters in South America.
  • Fun Fact: Sings a high, rapid, ringing “tsee-tsee-tsee-tsee” as it forages in the forest canopy. 

American Yellow Warbler (Setophaga aestiva)

  • Features: This warbler has muted yellow-olive upperparts and brighter yellow underparts. Males have rusty streaking on the breast. They sing a buzzy “sweet sweet I’m a sweet” song.
  • Locations: Found breeding in wetland edges, thickets and orchards statewide. Winters in Central and South America. 
  • Fun Fact: Females weave pouch-like nests anchored to several upright branches near water.

Prairie Warbler (Setophaga discolor)

  • Features: This warbler has an olive back with black streaks, yellow underparts with black streaking on sides, and a dark arc below the eye. Sings a rapid staccato rising and falling in pitch.
  • Locations: Breeds in old fields and other open brushy habitats statewide. Winters along the southeast coast and Caribbean.
  • Fun Fact: Favors sites with scattered small trees and tall shrubs. Nests very low in thickets. 

Black-throated Green Warbler (Setophaga virens)  

  • Features: This small warbler has a bold yellow face with a black throat and olive-green back. Shows white wingbars in flight. Sings a buzzy “trees, trees, murmuring trees.” 
  • Locations: Found breeding in mature forests with pine statewide. Winters in the Caribbean and Central America.
  • Fun Fact: One of the first warblers to return in spring, able to survive cooler temperatures. 

Canada Warbler (Cardellina canadensis)

  • Features: This warbler has a bright yellow throat, chest, and eyebrows, with olive-gray upperparts, yellow-tinted underparts and pink legs. The male has a necklace. Forages on the ground fluttering wings.
  • Locations: Breeds in cool, moist, shady forests across northern Kentucky. Winters in South America. 
  • Fun Fact: Builds a covered nest on or near the ground out of leaves, ferns and bark strips.

Wilson’s Warbler (Cardellina pusilla)

  • Features: This small warbler has bright yellow underparts and olive upperparts with a small black cap on the head. Broad white eye rings stand out against the black cap. 
  • Locations: Breeds across northern Kentucky. Winters along the Pacific coast south to Central America. 
  • Fun Fact: Males sing a loud, ringing “tseet” while perched or displaying over territory. 

Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra) – Females  

  • Features: The female summer tanager is mostly olive-yellow with darker wings and tail, unlike the bright ruby-red male. The thick pointed bill indicates its diet of insects and fruit.
  • Locations: Breeds in mature open woodlands statewide. Winters in South America.
  • Fun Fact: The female builds a nest on a horizontal branch high in a deciduous tree, away from trunk. 

Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea) – Females  

  • Features: The female scarlet tanager is yellow-olive overall with darker wings and tail, unlike the male’s brilliant plumage. The stout pointed bill suits its partly frugivorous diet. 
  • Locations: Breeds in mature deciduous forests statewide. Winters in South America.
  • Fun Fact: The female lays pale blue eggs speckled with brown spots. Both parents incubate eggs and feed nestlings.

Threats and Conservation

Habitat loss poses significant threats to the yellow birds in Kentucky (and birds of all colors, to be clear), as development degrades key breeding and migratory stopover sites. Insect population declines from pesticides impact food availability. Cats and windows kill millions of migrants annually.  

Protecting a diversity of vegetation types provides essential habitats. Reducing pesticide use preserves insect food sources. Making structures bird friendly withscreens, reduced lighting, and angled glass helps reduce collisions. Keeping cats indoors protects birds.

Citizen Science Opportunities

Kentucky birders make key contributions:

  • Uploading eBird checklists tracks populations and informs conservation.
  • Participating in breeding bird atlases maps species distributions. 
  • Building and monitoring nest boxes boosts breeding success.
  • Banding reveals migratory routes and life histories.
  • Annual Christmas Bird Counts tally winter residents. 
  • Outreach inspires future generations to value birds.

Conclusion

From tiny kinglets to colorful tanagers, the yellow birds in Kentucky fill important niches. Protecting habitats and migratory routes will ensure these flashes of sunshine keep brightening the landscape for generations.