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20 Yellow Birds in Texas

yellow birds in texas
Lesser Goldfinch in Kinney, Texas: Photo by Bryan Calk

Introduction

The Lone Star State’s variety of ecosystems from arid deserts to swampy bayous attract a remarkable diversity of birds, including those decked out in brilliant golden plumage. In this article, we’ll showcase some stunning yellow birds in Texas, top locations to spot them, and how we can aid their conservation.

Bell’s Vireo – Vireo bellii

  • Features: Bell’s vireo is a small songbird with a somewhat nondescript appearance. It is mainly olive-gray above and pale white below. The bird has a faint white eye-ring and spectacles, along with two pale wing bars. Its bill is relatively stout for its size, and it has a slightly rounded tail. Despite its subtle coloration, it is often identified by its persistent and distinctive song.
  • Where to Find Them in Texas: Bell’s vireo can be found in various parts of Texas, particularly in the south and western regions of the state. They prefer thickets, scrubby areas, and riparian woodlands. These birds are often found in dense undergrowth or low trees where they build their nests and forage for insects.
  • Fun Fact: During his 1843 journey along the Missouri River, John James Audubon became the first naturalist to identify and formally document Bell’s vireo. He referred to it as “the greenlet” and named it after his friend and companion, John Graham Bell, a taxidermist from Tappan, New York. (Bell is also the namesake of Bell’s sparrow.) Bell later imparted his skills in specimen preparation to a young Theodore Roosevelt, teaching him how to preserve birds and mammals.

American Goldfinch – Spinus tristis

  • Features: The American goldfinch, often referred to as the “wild canary”, is a bright and vivacious bird. During the breeding season, males display a brilliant yellow plumage with a stark black cap, wings, and tail, while females sport a more subdued, olive-yellow hue. Outside of the breeding season, both genders adopt a drab, olive-brown coloration. Distinctively, the wings always have white markings, regardless of the season.
  • Where to Find Them in Texas: While American goldfinches can be found throughout North America, in Texas, they are mainly winter visitors or transients. They can be spotted in open habitats, including fields, meadows, and gardens, as well as woodland edges. Bird feeders, especially those offering nyjer seeds, commonly attract these finches.
  • Fun Fact: American goldfinches are strict vegetarians, which is a rarity among birds. Their diet consists almost entirely of seeds. 

Lesser Goldfinch – Spinus psaltria

  • Features: The lesser goldfinch is a small, vibrant songbird characterized by a bright yellow underbelly and a glossy black cap, with variations in back color depending on the region, which can be either green or black. Females are more subdued in coloration, primarily olive above and yellowish below, lacking the black cap.
  • Where to Find Them in Texas: The lesser goldfinch can be found throughout the western and southwestern parts of the U.S., including Texas. They particularly favor areas with open woods, scrubby fields, gardens, and parks. In Texas, they are commonly spotted in the western and central parts, often frequenting bird feeders.
  • Fun Fact: Lesser goldfinches are agile feeders. They are often seen acrobatically hanging upside-down from plants and feeders to access seeds, especially sunflower seeds and dandelions. 

Wilson’s Warbler – Cardellina pusilla

  • Features: Wilson’s warbler is a small and vibrant songbird known for its bright yellow plumage and distinct black cap worn by the males. Both genders are primarily yellow below with olive-green upperparts. The female’s black cap is more diffuse or sometimes absent, making her appear more uniformly yellow and green.
  • Where to Find Them in Texas: Wilson’s Warblers migrate through Texas during the spring and fall as they travel between their breeding grounds in northern North America and wintering areas to the south. In Texas, they can be found in a variety of habitats during migration, from woodlands and forests to gardens and parks, often favoring areas with dense underbrush or along water sources.
  • Fun Fact: Named in honor of the American ornithologist Alexander Wilson, the Wilson’s warbler is a lively bird that often actively forages, flitting through the underbrush in search of insects. 

Nashville Warbler – Leiothlypis ruficapilla

  • Features: The Nashville warbler has a gray head with a pronounced white eye-ring, giving it a “spectacled” appearance. Its throat and underparts are bright yellow, fading into a white belly, while the upperparts are olive-green. Males often have a chestnut patch on the crown, though it’s typically not visible unless they are agitated or displaying.
  • Where to Find Them in Texas: Nashville warblers are primarily migrants in Texas, passing through the state during the spring and fall as they traverse between their breeding territories in the northern U.S. and Canada to wintering grounds in Mexico and Central America. During migration, they can be observed in a variety of habitats, including woodlands, scrublands, parks, and gardens.
  • Fun Fact: Despite its name, the Nashville warbler was not discovered in Nashville, Tennessee. Instead, the name stems from where the specimen was first described. 

Common Yellowthroat – Geothlypis trichas

  • Features: The common yellowthroat is a small and lively warbler that is easily recognized by its distinct mask. Males have a bright yellow throat and underparts, with an unmistakable black “bandit” mask across the eyes, set against an olive-green back. Females lack the black mask and are more subdued in coloration, primarily olive with a pale yellow throat and belly.
  • Where to Find Them in Texas: Common yellowthroats can be found throughout Texas in a variety of habitats, though they have a particular fondness for wet areas with dense, low vegetation. This includes marshes, wet meadows, and the edges of ponds and streams. 
  • Fun Fact: The common yellowthroat was one of the very first bird species to be described and cataloged in the New World, when a bird from Maryland was described by Carl Linnaeus in 1766.

Blue-winged Warbler – Vermivora cyanoptera

  • Features: The blue-winged warbler is characterized by its striking yellow head and underparts. True to its name, it has blue-gray wings adorned with two white wing bars. The bird’s eye sports a faint line and its back is olive-green, contrasting the vibrant front.
  • Where to Find Them in Texas: While the blue-winged warbler’s primary breeding range is in the eastern U.S., they are occasionally spotted in Texas during migration periods. Their preferred habitats include shrubby areas, open woodlands, and regenerating clearcuts. 
  • Fun Fact: Blue-winged warblers often interbreed with golden-winged warblers, producing two notable and relatively frequent hybrid variations: the “Brewster’s” and “Lawrence’s” warblers. Brewster’s exhibit golden wingbars and a white belly, traits of the golden-winged, but they also have a white throat, characteristic of the blue-winged. Conversely, Lawrence’s sport a black throat, indicative of the golden-winged, while displaying white wingbars and a yellow belly, which are blue-winged attributes.

Prothonotary Warbler – Protonotaria citrea

  • Features: The prothonotary warbler is a small, brightly-colored songbird that stands out due to its vibrant golden-yellow head and chest. The rest of its upperparts are blue-gray, and it sports a sharp, black eye that contrasts vividly with its yellow face. Its wings have faint white streaks, and its bill is pointed and dark, ideal for catching insects.
  • Where to Find Them in Texas: These warblers are often spotted in the eastern parts of Texas, particularly in bottomland hardwood forests, swamps, and other wet woodlands near slow-moving or stagnant water bodies. During their migration, they can be seen more widely across the state, but their primary breeding habitats are in the wooded swamps.
  • Fun Fact: Prothonotary Warblers have a strong association with water. Their nests are often found in tree cavities or nest boxes close to water, helping them avoid many ground-based predators. 

American Yellow Warbler – Setophaga petechia

  • Features: The yellow warbler is a cheerful-looking songbird, covered in bright yellow plumage. Both males and females display this vibrant coloration, but males are often adorned with rusty-red streaks on their chests, adding a layer of contrast. With a slightly rounded tail and a sharp, pointed beak designed for insect-catching, they’re active birds often seen flitting between branches.
  • Where to Find Them in Texas: Yellow warblers are commonly found across Texas, particularly during migration periods. They favor riparian woodlands, wet areas with shrubs, and thickets, but they can also be found in urban parks and gardens. While they breed in various parts of North America, including parts of Texas, they are also widespread migrants, traveling as far as South America during winter.
  • Fun Fact: The oldest yellow warbler on record was a female, who was a minimum of 11 years old when she was recaptured and subsequently released during banding procedures in New York.

Pine Warbler – Setophaga pinus

  • Features: The pine warbler is an elegant songbird that, true to its name, shows a strong affinity for pine trees. The bird is primarily olive-green on its upperparts with a yellowish hue on its throat and belly, though the intensity of this yellow can vary among individuals. Males are generally more brightly colored than females. They possess two white wing bars and a relatively thin bill, suited for gleaning insects from pine needles and branches.
  • Where to Find Them in Texas: Pine warblers are frequently found in the eastern part of Texas, predominantly in pine forests, as they are strongly associated with pine trees for both foraging and nesting. They can often be seen moving along branches and pine needles in search of insects, their primary diet.
  • Fun Fact: While pine warblers predominantly feed on insects, they’re among the few warblers that also eat seeds, especially in the winter months. During this time, they might be seen frequenting bird feeders, especially those offering suet. 

Canada Warbler – Cardellina canadensis

  • Features: The Canada warbler has a slate-gray back and a bright yellow front. Its most distinctive feature is the necklace of black streaks across its yellow throat and chest, which is more prominent in males. Additionally, the bird sports a bold eye-ring, giving it a spectacled appearance.
  • Where to Find Them in Texas: While the Canada warbler breeds in the northern regions of North America and Canada, it can be seen in Texas during its migration to and from its wintering grounds in South America. In Texas, during migration, they are typically found in wooded areas, particularly in forests with dense underbrush or near water sources.
  • Fun Fact: The Canada warbler is often called the “necklaced warbler” due to the characteristic black streaks on its chest.

Hooded Warbler – Setophaga citrina

  • Features: The hooded warbler male has a bright yellow face encased in a deep black hood and bib, giving it a masked appearance. The rest of its body is a vibrant yellow, contrasting with the olive-green wings and back. Females are similarly colored but have a more muted hood, often appearing olive or grayish, rather than the stark black seen in males.
  • Where to Find Them in Texas: Hooded warblers breed in the eastern United States and can be found in Texas during both the breeding season and migration periods. Their preferred habitats include mature deciduous forests, especially in areas with dense undergrowth or near water sources. In Texas, they are often spotted in the eastern parts of the state, particularly in dense woodlands.
  • Fun Fact: These birds have an intriguing foraging behavior; they often flutter close to the ground, catching insects in mid-air or picking them from leaves. 

MacGillivray’s Warbler – Geothlypis tolmiei

  • Features: MacGillivray’s warbler showcases a dark gray hood that contrasts starkly with its bright yellow underparts. Its upperparts are olive-green. The female, while having a similar yellow coloration below, lacks the dark hood and has a more muted appearance overall. Both sexes have a complete white eye-ring.
  • Where to Find Them in Texas: While MacGillivray’s warbler breeds primarily in the western parts of North America, they are occasional visitors to Texas, especially during migration. These birds prefer dense shrubby areas, especially in riparian zones and areas disturbed by fires or logging. Their presence in Texas is more sporadic, and birders may encounter them in the western parts of the state during migration.
  • Fun Fact: Named after the Scottish ornithologist William MacGillivray, this warbler is known for its skulking behavior, often staying low and out of sight in thick underbrush. 

Prairie Warbler – Setophaga discolor

  • Features: The prairie warbler is a small and lively bird with a distinctive appearance. It sports an olive-green back with a bright yellow underbelly. The male is decorated with black streaks on its sides and displays a rich chestnut streak through the center of its back. Both sexes have a faint facial pattern of an olive eyeline and yellow crescents below and in front of the eyes.
  • Where to Find Them in Texas: While their name might suggest an association with prairies, these warblers are more commonly found in scrubby fields, regrowing forests, and woodland edges. They are especially fond of areas affected by disturbances, like wildfires, as they provide the open and brushy habitats the birds prefer. They can be found throughout the eastern part of Texas.
  • Fun Fact: Though the Prairie Warbler prefers lower shrubs and trees, it often places its nest on the ground, concealed by surrounding vegetation. 

Kentucky Warbler – Geothlypis formosa

  • Features: The Kentucky warbler is a beautifully colored bird, mainly olive-green on the back with a bright yellow face and underparts. A distinct characteristic of this warbler is the bold black eye-line, which contrasts with its yellow face, and the black crown on males. Females are similar in appearance but might have a more muted color palette.
  • Where to Find Them in Texas: The Kentucky warbler breeds in the southeastern United States, and during migration, they can be found passing through Texas. They have a strong preference for moist, deciduous forests and woodlands, especially areas with dense undergrowth. They’re often found on the forest floor or in low shrubs.
  • Fun Fact: Kentucky warblers are ground nesters, often placing their nests in the base of a shrub or in dense grasses. 

Scott’s Oriole – Icterus parisorum

  • Features: Scott’s oriole is a strikingly colored bird with a glossy black hood and back, contrasted by a vibrant yellow or orange-yellow body. Males boast a more intense coloration than females, with females displaying a paler, more washed-out yellow and grayish elements on their back and wings. The wings of both sexes exhibit white wingbars and the black tail often has yellow corners.
  • Where to Find Them in Texas: In Texas, Scott’s orioles can typically be found in the western and southern parts of the state. They prefer arid regions and are often associated with yucca plants and oak-juniper woodlands. These areas provide nesting sites, as they often weave their hanging nests onto the long leaves of yuccas.
  • Fun Fact: Scott’s orioles are named after Winfield Scott, a U.S. Army officer and diplomat in the 19th century.

Audubon’s Oriole – Icterus graduacauda

  • Features: Audubon’s oriole boasts a unique coloration among North American orioles. It displays a combination of black and yellow: with its head, throat, and upper back cloaked in black, and the rest of its underparts bright yellow. The wings and tail exhibit a more olive-yellow hue. Males and females look similar, though the intensity of the yellow might be a tad brighter in males.
  • Where to Find Them in Texas: This bird has a limited range in the U.S., being primarily found in the southern tip of Texas, especially in the Rio Grande Valley. They inhabit woodlands, favoring areas with a mixture of oak, mesquite, and Spanish moss. They can also be found in subtropical thickets and riparian corridors.
  • Fun Fact: Named after the renowned naturalist John James Audubon, Audubon’s oriole remains relatively secretive, often staying in dense thickets, which can make them a challenge for birdwatchers to spot. 

Eastern Meadowlark – Sturnella magna

  • Features: The eastern meadowlark is a ground-dwelling bird with a bright yellow chest and a distinctive black V-shaped band. The back is predominantly brown, streaked with darker patterns to help with camouflage. 
  • Where to Find Them in Texas: Eastern meadowlarks are widespread throughout the eastern and central parts of the U.S., including Texas. They predominantly favor open grasslands, fields, pastures, and meadows. Their presence in Texas is year-round, but they might be more concentrated in the eastern parts of the state.
  • Fun Fact: The song of the eastern meadowlark is unmistakable, often described as a series of clear, melodious whistles. While they might be confused with the western meadowlark based on appearance, their songs are distinctly different. The eastern meadowlark’s song is a simple, clear, and plaintive whistle, often transcribed as “see-you, see-yeeer.” 

Western Meadowlark – Sturnella neglecta

  • Features: The western meadowlark is known for its vivid yellow front and the distinctive black V-shaped band across its chest. While similar in appearance to the Eastern Meadowlark, the Western counterpart has slightly darker and more contrasting streaks on its back and sides. Its throat is bright yellow, and its crown has streaks that are less pronounced than the eastern variant.
  • Where to Find Them in Texas: Predominantly found in the central and western regions of North America, western meadowlarks can also be encountered in the western parts of Texas. They thrive in open areas like grasslands, prairies, and fields. 
  • Fun Fact: As the state bird of several U.S. states (although pipped for that title in Texas by the northern mockingbird), the western meadowlark holds a special place in the heart of many bird lovers. 

Western Tanager – Piranga ludoviciana

  • Features: The male western tanager has a bright red face, yellow underparts, and black wings, back, and tail. The wings also showcase two bold white wing bars. Females, while more muted, have a yellowish body with gray wings and back, still retaining the characteristic white wing bars.
  • Where to Find Them in Texas: Though primarily found in the western parts of North America during the breeding season, western tanagers pass through Texas during migration. They are forest birds, favoring coniferous woods but can be seen in a variety of habitats during migration, including woodlands, suburbs, and gardens.
  • Fun Fact: Western tanagers have a unique way of acquiring their vibrant red facial coloration. Unlike many birds that obtain their red hues from carotenoids in their diet, these tanagers get theirs from a rare pigment called rhodoxanthin. They can’t produce this pigment naturally, so they extract it from their diet, which includes insects that have consumed the pigment from plants. 

Threats and Conservation

Habitat loss, climate change, reduced insect prey, and brood parasitism threaten many yellow bird species. Providing natural food sources, keeping cats indoors, avoiding pesticides, and supporting prairie/wetland conservation can secure their future in Texas.

Conclusion

The amazing diversity and sheer brilliance of yellow birds seen across Texas represents an important natural heritage to be preserved. From the sunlit spring migrants passing through on their epic journeys to the bright resident species that raise chicks in our backyards each summer, these birds make Texas a richer place. Conserving their unique habitats will help ensure yellow birds continue dazzling Texans for generations to come. There are even more yellow birds to be found in Texas that haven’t been included here, so leave a comment and let us know what your favorite yellow Texan bird is!

Hali Oduor

Thursday 5th of October 2023

So informative! Can't wait for my first birding trip to Texas!