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33 Yellow Birds in Wisconsin

yellow birds in wisconsin
Canada Warbler in Dane, Wisconsin: Photo by Matt Boley

Introduction

Wisconsin, with its diverse habitats ranging from lakeshores to dense forests, is home to a myriad of bird species. Among them, yellow birds particularly stand out, offering vibrant splashes of color against the state’s natural backdrop. In this guide, we’ll journey through some of the most striking yellow birds in Wisconsin.

Why So Many Warblers are Yellow?

Warblers are some of the most colorful and varied birds in North America, and a significant number of them exhibit yellow in their plumage. While the exact reason for this prevalence of yellow among warblers isn’t entirely understood, several theories exist:

1. Camouflage: Yellow hues, especially in combination with olive or green, help warblers blend into their surroundings, particularly leafy habitats.

2. Sexual Selection: Bright colors might help in attracting mates. Males are typically more vibrant than females, suggesting coloration plays a role in mate choice.

3. Diet Influence: The diet of insects, particularly caterpillars, can influence the pigments in warbler feathers, leading to yellow coloration.

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (Empidonax flaviventris)

  • Features: This diminutive flycatcher features a distinctive appearance characterized by its large eyes and prominent head, occasionally exhibiting a raised rear peak. Sporting a short tail and a petite yet broad bill, it showcases an overall yellowish-olive hue complemented by a striking white eyering and two pale wingbars. Its underside is adorned in yellowish tones, extending seamlessly from its chin to its lower belly.
  • Behavior: It frequents the lower and middle layers of thick forests, where it swiftly darts out to snatch insects mid-flight or from foliage. While perched, it often displays nervous head movements and occasionally flicks its tail with a gentle motion.
  • Habitat: During the breeding season, it inhabits boreal coniferous forests, bogs, swamps, and peatlands. In winter, it can be spotted in dense rainforests, montane evergreen forests, pine-oak forests, and shaded coffee plantations.
  • Range: In Wisconsin, you might find Yellow-bellied Flycatchers in the right habitat all over the state between May and October.
  • Fun Fact: Yellow-bellied Flycatchers typically spend a brief period on their breeding grounds. They boast one of the quickest stays among Neotropical migrants, often lasting less than 70 days. So you better catch them while they’re around!

Great Crested Flycatcher (Myiarchus crinitus)

  • Features: Great Crested Flycatchers are sizable birds with relatively elongated and slender proportions. Like many flycatchers, they possess a robust build characterized by broad shoulders and a sizable head. Despite their name, the crest of this bird is not particularly prominent. The bill is moderately wide at the base and straight, while the tail is relatively long. Sporting a reddish-brown hue on their upperparts, they feature a brownish-gray head, gray throat, and breast, contrasted by a vibrant lemon-yellow belly. Their brown upperparts are accentuated by rufous-orange flashes in the primaries and tail feathers. Additionally, the black bill may exhibit hints of pale coloration at its base.
  • Behavior: Great Crested Flycatchers employ a sit-and-wait strategy as predators, launching from elevated perches, typically near the tree canopy, to pursue larger insects. They often return to the same or nearby perches after their forays. Their distinctive, upwardly inflected “reep” calls are frequently heard during the summer months.
  • Habitat: Great Crested Flycatchers inhabit woodlots and open woodland areas, especially among deciduous trees. During their tropical wintering period, they are found in similar semi-open habitats. Migratory individuals can be spotted in almost any wooded or shrubby environment.
  • Range: From mid-April to mid-October, Great Crested Flycatchers can be seen all over Wisconsin.
  • Fun Fact: They often use shed snake skin or other materials like plastic wrappers to line their nest.

Yellow-throated Vireo (Vireo flavifrons)

  • Features: Yellow-throated Vireos are petite songbirds characterized by their robust build, featuring a large head, thick bill, and short tail. Both males and females sport a distinctive appearance akin to wearing vivid yellow spectacles against their olive-green head. Their throat and chest mirror the color of these “spectacles,” while the lower belly boasts a striking white hue. Additionally, two white bars adorn their gray wings.
  • Behavior: It scavenges for insects in the middle and upper levels of forests, extracting them from trunks, branches, and foliage. This bird typically explores the inner sections of trees, especially on exposed branches, moving at a leisurely pace and spending considerable time in each location while searching for prey.
  • Habitat: During the breeding season, it inhabits deciduous forests and is frequently found in greater numbers near forest edges with a sparse understory. In winter, it occupies various habitats, ranging from dry tropical forests to rainforests, typically at elevations up to 6,000 feet.
  • Range: Widespread throughout Wisconsin from April sometimes until early November.
  • Fun Fact: Unlike many North American songbirds, where only females handle incubation and brooding duties, Yellow-throated Vireos exhibit a different pattern. Both male and female Yellow-throated Vireos participate in incubating eggs and caring for the young, sharing responsibilities throughout the day by taking turns.

Bell’s Vireo (Vireo bellii)

  • Features: This small songbird boasts a slender physique and a relatively elongated tail. Its bill, while smaller compared to other vireos, remains thicker and slightly hooked, akin to that of a warbler. Western individuals, notably the diminutive Least Bell’s Vireo, exhibit a grayish upper plumage and whitish underparts, accentuated by subtle pale “spectacles” around the eyes and faint wingbars. In contrast, eastern counterparts display greenish hues on their upperparts and a yellowish tinge on the sides, with more prominent wingbars.
  • Behavior: Bell’s Vireos typically remain concealed within dense vegetation while foraging, yet they frequently venture to the peripheries of bushes. Singing individuals may boldly announce their territories from the tops of bushes and outer branches. When in motion, they exhibit a distinctive behavior of flicking their tails in various directions.
  • Habitat: During breeding, migration, and wintering, Bell’s Vireos prefer to inhabit low, dense vegetation across various habitats.
  • Range: Uncommon visitors to the southern parts of Wisconsin from May to October.
  • Fun Fact: Get this: There are no documented instances of Bell’s Vireo observed drinking water. It is possible that the bird meets its hydration needs solely through its food sources. That’s wild.

Blue-headed Vireo (Vireo solitarius)

  • Features: This sturdy, diminutive songbird possesses a moderately-sized tail and a relatively robust, hooked bill, along with thick legs (in comparison to warblers). Cloaked in a moss-green hue, it features a bluish-gray head and immaculate white underparts. Its face is distinguished by distinct white “spectacles” and throat. The underparts are white, while the sides exhibit a greenish-yellow tint. Both the tail and wings display a blackish coloration, adorned with two prominent white wingbars.
  • Behavior: Blue-headed Vireos typically forage at mid-levels within mature trees, methodically traversing from branch to branch as they search for insects. They exhibit a deliberate pace, often tilting their heads to thoroughly scan their surroundings in all directions before swiftly capturing caterpillars or other prey.
  • Habitat: During the breeding season, Blue-headed Vireos inhabit mature boreal and montane forests of various types. Migratory and wintering individuals can be encountered in nearly any forested habitat, particularly those with a presence of understory vegetation.
  • Range: Common throughout Wisconsin from early April until as late as the end of November.
  • Fun Fact: They are one of the few vireos that migrate at night.

Philadelphia Vireo (Vireo philadelphicus)

  • Features: This diminutive songbird, while small for a vireo, maintains a robust build, slightly chunkier than a warbler. Its bill is comparatively small among vireos. Adorned in olive tones on its upperparts and pale hues below, it frequently exhibits a yellow throat and underparts. Additionally, it features a dark grayish crown, with a distinct dark line extending through the eye and a pale stripe above the eye.
  • Behavior: Philadelphia Vireos typically forage at elevated heights within trees, leisurely traversing branches while attentively scanning leaves for insect prey, particularly caterpillars and beetles during the breeding season. Migratory and wintering individuals frequently associate with mixed-species flocks of woodland birds.
  • Habitat: During the breeding season, this species thrives in regenerating deciduous and mixed woodlands, particularly those featuring aspen, birch, alder, cherry, ash, black spruce, and balsam fir, as well as willow and alder thickets. Migrating and wintering individuals can be spotted in various wooded habitats, including mature forest edges.
  • Range: Uncommon to common in Wisconsin, seen most frequently in the months of May and September when they are passing through on their migration journeys.
  • Fun Fact: Despite their name, they have no special connection to Philadelphia. The name originates from where the specimen was first identified.

Red-eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus)

  • Features: Red-eyed Vireos are sizable and robust vireos, characterized by a long, angular head, thick neck, and a sturdy, elongated bill featuring a noticeable tip hook. Their bodies are stocky, with relatively short tails. Sporting an olive-green upper plumage and pristine white underparts, they showcase a distinct head pattern: a gray crown and a white eyebrow stripe flanked above and below by blackish lines. Their flanks and under the tail display a wash of green-yellow hues. Adults possess red eyes, which may appear dark from a distance, while immatures exhibit dark eyes.
  • Behavior: They search for food within the canopies of deciduous trees, often blending in with the green foliage, making them challenging to spot. Their foraging style is deliberate and methodical, as they meticulously scan both the upper and lower surfaces of leaves in search of their preferred caterpillar prey. However, their tendency to sing almost incessantly during the summer, even in the heat of mid-afternoon, serves to attract attention to their presence.
  • Habitat: During the breeding season, Red-eyed Vireos favor extensive areas of deciduous forest, especially those containing trees with large leaves like maples. While migrating, they can be found in almost any forested environment, including woodlands and woodlots, with a preference for deciduous stands. They are frequently the most abundant vireo species observed during migration.
  • Range: You can see Red-eyed Vireos easily throughout the entire state between April and November.
  • Fun Fact: During summer, a single red-eyed vireo can consume up to 2,000 caterpillars a day!

Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula)

  • Features: Kinglets are petite songbirds characterized by their relatively large heads, minimal necks, and slender tails. They possess tiny, thin, straight bills. Ruby-crowned Kinglets showcase an olive-green plumage adorned with a prominent white eyering and wingbar. This wingbar stands out against an adjacent blackish bar within the wing. The male’s distinctive “ruby crown” is visible only on rare occasions.
  • Behavior: These are lively, agile birds that swiftly navigate through foliage, usually at lower and middle levels. They exhibit near-constant wing flicking as they move.
  • Habitat: During the breeding season, Ruby-crowned Kinglets inhabit tall, dense coniferous forests, including those dominated by spruce, fir, and tamarack. In winter and during migration, they can also be found in shrubby habitats, deciduous forests, parks, and suburban areas.
  • Range: Ruby-crowned Kinglets can actually be observed in Wisconsin pretty much year-round, but are most frequent in the main migration months.
  • Fun Fact: Metabolic research conducted on Ruby-crowned Kinglets indicates that these small birds typically utilize approximately 10 kilocalories per day.

Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa)

  • Features: These diminutive songbirds feature a rounded body, short wings, and a slender tail. They boast relatively large heads and possess short, thin bills, ideally suited for capturing small insects. Golden-crowned Kinglets exhibit a pale olive upper plumage and gray underparts, accompanied by a black-and-white striped face and a vibrant yellow-orange crown patch. Additionally, they display a thin white wingbar and yellow accents along the edges of their black flight feathers.
  • Behavior: Typically, these petite songbirds remain hidden among the upper reaches of dense trees, announcing their presence with thin, exceedingly high-pitched calls. They adeptly snatch small insects from clusters of conifer needles, occasionally hovering briefly to access them. During migration and winter, kinglets often mingle with other insect-eating songbirds like warblers in mixed flocks.
  • Habitat: Golden-crowned Kinglets primarily inhabit coniferous forests. During the breeding season, they are commonly found in boreal or montane forests, particularly among spruce and fir trees, as well as in conifer plantations. In winter, their habitat preferences become slightly less specific; while they still frequent coniferous areas, they can also be observed in deciduous forests, suburban areas, swamps, bottomlands, and scrubby habitats.
  • Range: Like Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Golden-crowned Kinglets can be observed in Wisconsin throughout the year. In fact, they’re slightly more common in off seasons than Ruby-crowned.
  • Fun Fact: They can endure cold winter temperatures, thanks to their unique ability to enter torpor, a state of decreased physiological activity.

American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)

  • Features: This small finch is characterized by a short, conical bill and a small head, along with long wings and a short, notched tail. Male individuals during spring and early summer exhibit a vibrant yellow plumage with a black forehead, black wings adorned with white markings, and white patches both above and beneath the tail. In contrast, adult females display a less intense yellow hue below and olive coloring above. During winter, their appearance shifts to a drab, unstreaked brown, featuring blackish wings and two pale wingbars.
  • Behavior: These energetic and agile finches are known for their ability to cling to weeds and seed socks, occasionally gathering in sizable groups at feeders or on the ground below. Goldfinches exhibit a buoyant, undulating flight pattern and frequently vocalize while flying, attracting attention to their presence.
  • Habitat: Goldfinches primarily inhabit weedy fields and floodplains, favoring areas abundant with plants like thistles and asters. They are also frequently encountered in cultivated landscapes, along roadsides, in orchards, and in backyard settings. American Goldfinches are known to frequent feeders year-round, with their highest numbers typically seen during winter.
  • Range: Common and widespread throughout the whole state all year.
  • Fun Fact: Wisconsin’s state bird, they’re often called “wild canaries.”

Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta)

  • Features: The Western Meadowlark is comparable in size to a robin but appears chunkier with a shorter tail. It features a flat head, a long, slender bill, and a rounded-shoulder posture that often obscures its neck. Its wings are rounded and relatively short for its size, while the tail is short, stiff, and spiky. Sporting yellow underparts, it showcases intricately patterned upperparts in shades of brown, black, and buff. A black “V” adorns its bright yellow breast, though it turns gray in winter. The head is marked with contrasting stripes of dark brown and light buff. During flight, the outer tail feathers flash white.
  • Behavior: Search for Western Meadowlarks as they forage solo on the ground or, during winter, in small, scattered flocks. When startled, they take flight close to the ground, with wings positioned below the horizontal, employing short, stiff wingbeats reminiscent of quails. During spring and summer, males can be heard singing from atop fence posts, bushes, power lines, and other elevated perches.
  • Habitat: During the spring and summer breeding seasons, Western Meadowlarks prefer the expansive landscapes of native grasslands and agricultural fields. They are commonly found among low to medium-height grasses rather than tall fields. Additionally, they can be spotted along the weedy edges of roads, marsh boundaries, and mountain meadows.
  • Range: Uncommon in suitable habitat in much of Wisconsin. You’re not likely to find them in the northeast of the state.
  • Fun Fact: The nest of the Western Meadowlark is typically adorned with a grass roof, although variations exist. Some nests may be entirely exposed, while others feature a complete roof and an entrance tunnel spanning several feet in length.

Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna)

  • Features: Eastern Meadowlarks are robust, medium-sized songbirds characterized by short tails and elongated, spear-shaped bills. When in flight, their rounded wings, abbreviated tails, and lengthy bills distinguish them from other grassland songbirds. Sporting a pale brown plumage with black markings, they feature vibrant yellow underparts and a striking black V-shaped pattern across the chest. While most of the tail exhibits brown coloration with blackish barring, the outer feathers are white and prominent during flight.
  • Behavior: Eastern Meadowlarks are commonly observed walking on the ground, often hidden by grasses or crops. Males showcase their melodious, flute-like songs from exposed perches, notably fenceposts. Their flight is characterized by a unique pattern of rapid fluttering interspersed with short glides, typically close to the ground. During winter, you might encounter flocks of meadowlarks foraging for insects in fields.
  • Habitat: Eastern Meadowlarks inhabit a variety of habitats including farm fields, grasslands, and wet fields. They construct their nests on the ground and are often heard singing from prominent perches such as treetops, fenceposts, and utility lines.
  • Range: More common in Wisconsin than Western Meadowlarks, seen most frequently between March and October.
  • Fun Fact: Despite their visual similarities, eastern and western meadowlarks are not closely related and belong to different genetic lineages.

Orchard Oriole (Female) (Icterus spurius)

  • Features: Orchard Orioles are slender songbirds, larger than warblers and vireos. They possess medium-length tails, rounded heads, and a straight, sharply pointed bill. Females of this species are a muted yellow or ochre, unlike the vibrant orange males. They have whitish wing bars and a slender bill.
  • Behavior: Orchard Orioles typically search for insects in the uppermost branches of trees. Additionally, they consume nectar from flowers and, during the fall season, feed on berries and various fruits. Occasionally, they may visit hummingbird feeders or partake in offerings such as orange slices or jelly at feeding stations.
  • Habitat: During the summer months, Orchard Orioles inhabit open woodlands and regions with dispersed trees throughout the eastern United States and southern Canada. Keep an eye out for them along the edges of rivers, in pastures dotted with trees, and within parks and orchards.
  • Range: Between May and September, Orchard Orioles are regularly found in the southern half of Wisconsin.
  • Fun Fact: The Orchard Oriole feeds on nectar and pollen from flowers, particularly during the winter months. It serves as a pollinator for certain tropical plant species; as it feeds, its head collects pollen, which is subsequently transferred from one flower to another. However, at times, the oriole may opt to pierce the base of the flower to extract the nectar directly, obtaining the reward without providing a service to the plant.

Baltimore Oriole (Female) (Icterus galbula)

  • Features: Adult female Orchard Orioles exhibit considerable variability in appearance, often resembling males but with more muted coloration. Their head and mantle may not be uniformly black, appearing more as dark brownish olive rather than solid black. They typically display paler orange underparts and rump compared to males, along with a plain brownish olive tail.
  • Behavior: Baltimore Orioles are frequently heard before they are seen, as they forage high in trees, scanning leaves and small branches for insects, flowers, and fruit. They can also be observed at lower levels, where they may be seen plucking fruit from vines and bushes or sipping from hummingbird feeders. Keep an eye out for the male’s leisurely, fluttering flights between treetops, and listen for their distinctive wink or chatter calls.
  • Habitat: Search for Baltimore Orioles perched high in leafy deciduous trees, avoiding deep forests. They are commonly found in open woodlands, forest edges, orchards, stands of trees along rivers, parks, and even backyards.
  • Locations: Seen throughout almost of Wisconsin between April and September.
  • Fun Fact: They have a sweet tooth, often feeding on fruits and nectar, and are known to visit backyard feeders with sweetened water.

Blue-winged Warbler (Vermivora cyanoptera)

  • Features: Blue-winged Warblers are compact and well-proportioned birds featuring a sharp, pointed bill. Their rather robust black bill and prominent eyeline impart a distinctively pointed appearance compared to other warblers. Adult males showcase bright yellow underparts, yellow-green upperparts, and exhibit two conspicuous wingbars on blue-gray wings, along with a distinct black eyeline. In contrast, adult females appear paler with a less defined eyeline. The black bill and eyeline contribute to an almost stern expression. When observing from below, note the presence of white undertail coverts in both sexes.
  • Behavior: These warblers exhibit a behavior similar to chickadees, often hanging from shrubs and occasionally foraging upside down to pick insects from dead leaves. During the breeding season, males can be heard singing from exposed perches.
  • Habitat: The Blue-winged Warbler specializes in shrubland habitats, typically inhabiting brushy fields, thickets, and forest edges.
  • Range: Fairly regular spring and summer residents in most of Wisconsin, barring the northern-most section.
  • Fun Fact: Blue-winged Warblers frequently hybridize with Golden-winged Warblers (V. chrysoptera), resulting in two distinct and relatively common hybrids known as “Brewster’s” and “Lawrence’s” warblers. Brewster’s warblers exhibit golden wingbars and a white belly, characteristic of Golden-winged Warblers, but possess a white throat, a feature of Blue-winged Warblers. On the other hand, Lawrence’s warblers feature a black throat, a trait of Golden-winged Warblers, but possess white wingbars and a yellow belly, characteristic of Blue-winged Warblers.

Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea)

  • Features: The Prothonotary Warbler is a substantial warbler with a large head and bill, characterized by shorter legs and tail compared to other warblers. Its bill is notably heavier and longer than most. Sporting vibrant golden-yellow plumage with blue-gray wings and tail, and a yellow-olive back, it features a distinctively beady black eye that contrasts against its solid yellow face. When viewed from below, it displays white under the tail. Females typically exhibit a paler yellow hue compared to males.
  • Behavior: This warbler frequently forages above still or gently flowing water. It moves slowly, hopping along branches, twigs, and fallen trees, often maintaining a low position or even descending to the ground while searching for food. During flight, it navigates between trees and shrubs with robust wingbeats, following an undulating pattern.
  • Habitat: Prothonotary Warblers breed in wooded swamps, flooded bottomland forests, and wooded regions adjacent to streams and lakes. These forests typically feature flat, shaded areas with standing dead trees containing old woodpecker and chickadee holes, which serve as nesting sites.
  • Range: Prothonotary Warblers are uncommon visitors to the southern half of Wisconsin, most frequently observed in May, on their way north.
  • Fun Fact: They’re one of the few warblers that nest in tree cavities.

Tennessee Warbler (Oreothlypis peregrina)

  • Features: Compact and robust compared to typical warblers, the Tennessee Warbler boasts a short tail and a slender, sharply pointed bill, notably smaller and more pointed than that of a Red-eyed Vireo. Breeding males feature a gray head with a distinctive white line above the eye, set against a green back devoid of wingbars. Their underparts are uniformly whitish, extending all the way to the undertail coverts. In contrast, females and nonbreeding males exhibit a more subdued greenish hue, with less contrast between the head and back. On occasion, individuals may appear predominantly olive-yellow throughout, except for the white undertail coverts.
  • Behavior: Tennessee Warblers typically forage on slender branches located high in the forest canopy, primarily feeding on insects. During their breeding season, a primary food source for them is a small caterpillar known as the spruce budworm.
  • Habitat: While migrating, they can be observed in various forest types and woodlands. In the winter months, they inhabit second-growth tropical forests.
  • Range: Coniferous forests during breeding, migrating through most of Wisconsin.
  • Fun Fact: Although the Tennessee Warbler breeds as far north as northern Michigan (and Wisconsin!), approximately 600 miles from the state of Tennessee, it was named by Alexander Wilson after encountering the species during its migration in Tennessee.

Orange-crowned Warbler (Leiothlypis celata)

  • Features: Orange-crowned Warblers are petite songbirds with distinctively slender, sharply pointed bills compared to other warblers. They feature short wings and short, square tails. Their plumage is typically a subdued yellowish or olive hue, with a grayer appearance, particularly on the head, in eastern populations. Characteristic markings include a thin white or yellow stripe above the eye, a blackish line extending through the eye, and a faint partial eyering. While the namesake orange crown patch is seldom visible, it may occasionally emerge when the bird raises its head feathers in excitement or agitation. The undertail coverts stand out as bright yellow and are often the most vivid part of the plumage.
  • Behavior: Orange-crowned Warblers typically search for food within dense shrubs and low trees. While they are generally discreet and unassuming, their habit of foraging at lower levels can aid in their detection. Additionally, they often emit a faint, high-pitched contact call while foraging.
  • Habitat: During the breeding season, Orange-crowned Warblers inhabit dense regions of deciduous shrubbery, typically within or near forested areas. Their breeding range spans from low-elevation oak scrub to stunted forests near timberline. Throughout migration, they can be encountered in almost any habitat, although they maintain a preference for dense, low vegetation.
  • Range: Orange-crowned Warblers are common Spring and Autumn migration birds in much of Wisconsin, although they can also sometimes be observed throughout the winter months as well.
  • Fun Fact: The majority of Orange-crowned Warblers opt to nest on the ground, likely as a strategy to evade nest-robbing birds.

Nashville Warbler (Leiothlypis ruficapilla)

  • Features: A diminutive songbird, the Nashville Warbler is characterized by its compact build, rounded head, plump body, and relatively short tail. It possesses a fine, straight, and pointed bill. Sporting predominantly yellow plumage, it features a green back, gray head, and a prominent white eyering. Notably, its lower belly is white, flanked by a yellow breast and yellow undertail coverts, creating a distinct pattern useful for identification when viewed from below. While females and young birds resemble adults, their colors are typically more subdued and pale.
  • Behavior: The Nashville Warbler forages for insects primarily at middle levels within the outer edges of trees, amidst twigs and foliage. It frequently associates with other species in mixed foraging flocks. Notably, western populations of this species often exhibit tail flicking or wagging behavior, a trait less frequently observed in eastern birds.
  • Habitat: Nashville Warblers typically favor shrubby tangles and regenerating clearings within fragmented forests as their preferred habitat. In the Eastern regions, this habitat often consists of mixed forests and spruce-cedar bogs.
  • Range: Common migratory warblers that pass through all of Wisconsin between mid-April and October.
  • Fun Fact: Nashville Warblers have been observed using porcupine quills as nesting material.

Connecticut Warbler (Oporornis agilis)

  • Features: A robust warbler with a short tail, elongated pink legs, prominent eye, and a relatively stout, spike-like bill. Its lengthy undertail coverts nearly extend to the tip of its comparatively short tail, distinguishing it from Mourning Warblers (see below). Displaying a gray hood, highlighted by a striking white eyering, it boasts a yellow belly and olive back. Younger birds and females exhibit a less pronounced hood and muted coloration compared to males, often appearing somewhat brownish in hue.
  • Behavior: The Connecticut Warbler typically walks (rather than hops) on the ground or along low branches, engaging in slow and deliberate foraging for invertebrates. It tends to favor areas with dense undergrowth for this purpose. Male Connecticut Warblers are known to sing incessantly from concealed song perches located high in trees.
  • Habitat: During the breeding season, the Connecticut Warbler can be found in habitats such as spruce-tamarack bogs, poplar forests, muskeg, and similar open wooded areas. On their wintering grounds, they utilize various forest types, ranging from lowland tropical rainforests and dry woodlands to foothills and cloud forests. During migration, they tend to prefer wooded habitats with ample ground cover.
  • Range: Uncommon migrants through scattered parts of Wisconsin.
  • Fun Fact: Despite the name, they don’t breed in Connecticut but were named based on where they were first described.

Mourning Warbler (Geothlypis philadelphia)

  • Features: A diminutive yet robust songbird, characterized by a relatively full body and thick neck. Its bill is slender and straight, smaller than that of the similar-looking Connecticut Warbler (see above). Sporting a moderately long tail and sturdy legs, adult males exhibit olive upperparts, yellow underparts, a gray hood, and a black chest patch. In contrast, adult females display more subdued colors and lack the chest patch. Immature individuals are typically brownish above, yellow below, including the center of the throat. Both sexes typically lack an eyering, although some adult males may display thin white eye arcs, reminiscent of the bolder markings seen in MacGillivray’s Warbler (G. tolmiei).
  • Behavior: The Mourning Warbler typically forages in the lower levels of shrubby vegetation, either walking along branches or hopping on the ground to collect insects, larvae, and fruits. Male birds often sing while perched relatively low in the undergrowth or on saplings, and they may engage in rapid, skylarking song flights towards evening. During migration and wintering periods, these birds tend to remain concealed within dense foliage.
  • Habitat: During the breeding season, the Mourning Warbler constructs its nest in dense shrubby second-growth areas, often amidst berry-bearing plants within the boreal forest and Appalachian highlands.
  • Range: Regular summer residents between May and October in most of the state.
  • Fun Fact: They’re ground nesters and can be hard to see, but their distinctive song often gives them away.

Kentucky Warbler (Geothlypis formosa)

  • Features: The Kentucky Warbler is a robust songbird distinguished by its stout build, featuring a heavier bill, longer legs, and shorter tail compared to many other warbler species. Male Kentucky Warblers exhibit olive upperparts and yellow underparts, with a blackish crown and face adorned by a yellow eyebrow that extends behind the eye. Females and immature individuals share a similar appearance, although the head pattern is less pronounced.
  • Behavior: Kentucky Warblers primarily forage on the forest floor, where they hop through leaf litter, flipping it with their feet and bill, and probing to uncover hidden invertebrates. Additionally, they explore the forest understory, pecking at or darting out for small prey. During the winter months, these birds often trail ant swarms, perching nearby and patiently observing until an invertebrate is flushed by the ants.
  • Habitat: During the breeding season, Kentucky Warblers inhabit bottomland hardwood forests characterized by a rich understory, frequently found near streams or within canopy gaps. In the winter months, they migrate to tropical lowland woodlands and areas of secondary growth.
  • Range: Pretty uncommon visitors in the summertime, typically limited to the southern parts of the state.
  • Fun Fact: In contrast to many other songbirds, a male Kentucky Warbler exhibits a unique behavior of singing only one song type. This singular song remains consistent throughout his entire life.

Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas)

  • Features: Common Yellowthroats are petite songbirds characterized by their chunky, rounded heads and medium-length, slightly rounded tails. Adult males boast bright yellow underparts, adorned with a distinct black face mask and olive upperparts. A slender whitish line separates the black mask from the head and neck. Immature males exhibit hints of the full mask seen in adult males. In contrast, females sport a plain olive-brown plumage, typically featuring hints of yellow on the throat and under the tail. Notably, females lack the black mask observed in males.
  • Behavior: Common Yellowthroats are often found skulking close to the ground amidst dense thickets and fields, where they diligently search for small insects and spiders. Males are known for their distinctive, rolling “wichety-wichety-wichety” song, while both sexes emit a resonant “chuck” note that is easily recognizable. During migration, they frequently dominate fields and edges, often being the most prevalent warbler species encountered. Additionally, they occasionally join mixed foraging flocks with other warbler species.
  • Habitat: Yellowthroats inhabit open areas characterized by dense, low vegetation, spanning from marshlands to grasslands and open pine forests. Throughout migration, they utilize an extensive range of habitats, including backyards and forested areas.
  • Range: Very common visitors in the summer months between May and September in all of Wisconsin.
  • Fun Fact: They have an elaborate courtship display, with males showing off their black masks to attract females.

Hooded Warbler (Setophaga citrina)

  • Features: Hooded Warblers are diminutive birds with a well-proportioned physique and a straight, pointed bill. In comparison to other warblers, they exhibit a relatively robust body and thick neck. Adult males display olive-green upperparts and vibrant yellow underparts, accented by a striking black hood and throat, along with a yellow forehead and cheeks. Females and juveniles share similar olive-green upperparts and yellow underparts but lack the distinctive black hood, although some adult females may display a faint outline of it. Notably, observe their prominent black eyes and the white outer tail feathers that they frequently flash.
  • Behavior: This warbler is often found in the understory, darting among shrubs and revealing its white outer tail feathers. It typically remains partially concealed within the understory vegetation, intermittently leaping up to capture insects or plucking them from foliage.
  • Habitat: Hooded Warblers inhabit mature deciduous forests characterized by a dense understory, although they also frequent smaller forested areas as long as there is a shrubby undergrowth.
  • Range: Uncommon visitors in the summer, mostly found in the southern parts of Wisconsin, particularly along Lake Michigan.
  • Fun Fact: The female hooded warbler often builds a “dummy” nest in addition to the real one as a strategy to confuse predators.

Kirtland’s Warbler (Setophaga kirtlandii)

  • Features: A rather sizable, robust warbler sporting a relatively abbreviated tail. Breeding males exhibit a steel-gray hue adorned with black streaks across the upperparts, contrasting with lemon-yellow underparts. Their heads feature a gray coloration with a black mask and a partial eye ring. Females and juveniles share a similar pattern but tend to display a more subdued, brownish tone on the upperparts, often accompanied by broader black streaks on the breast and lacking the distinct mask.
  • Behavior: Kirtland’s Warblers dart rapidly through thickets and scrub, continually bobbing their tails.
  • Habitat: Breeds solely within early to mid-successional jack pine forests, thriving in sandy soil conditions. They are most prevalent when the trees reach heights ranging from approximately 5 to 15 feet.
  • Range: Jack pine forests, particularly between the Petenwell and Castle Rocks Lakes in central Wisconsin, though generally very rare.
  • Fun Fact: One of the most endangered warblers in America, dedicated conservation efforts are ongoing to protect Kirtland’s Warbler habitat.

Cape May Warbler (Setophaga tigrina)

  • Features: A dainty warbler with a short tail and a uniquely curved bill, a feature uncommon among warblers. Adult males exhibit a lush yellowish-olive hue on their upperparts, with rufous cheeks encircled in yellow and dense rufous “tiger stripes” on the breast (a feature present in all plumages, hence the species’ scientific name, tigrina). Their underparts are yellow, and their wings sport a prominent white patch. Females and juveniles are less vibrant, lacking the intense yellow but displaying a yellowish-green rump.
  • Behavior: Cape May Warblers forage for insects amidst branches, sip nectar from flowers, or indulge in fruit consumption. They primarily obtain their food by probing and picking, although they also catch insects in midair or hover to pluck items from leaves and branches.
  • Habitat: Breeding primarily occurs in the boreal forest, characterized by spruce and balsam fir trees. During migration and in winter, these birds inhabit a diverse range of forested and shrubby habitats.
  • Range: Uncommon to common visitors to most of Wisconsin, most frequently in the months of May and September, but sometimes seen well into the winter as well.
  • Fun Fact: They’re named after Cape May, New Jersey, where the species was first observed.

American Yellow Warbler (Setophaga petechia

  • Features: Yellow Warblers are petite, well-balanced songbirds boasting medium-length tails and rounded heads. Their relatively sizable bills, straight and slender, are notable for warblers. These birds exhibit a consistent yellow hue throughout their plumage. The males sport a vibrant, egg-yolk yellow coloration with reddish streaks on the underparts. Both genders display flashes of yellow in their tails. Their unblemished faces draw attention to their large, black eyes.
  • Behavior: Search for Yellow Warblers amidst the upper reaches of tall shrubs and small trees. They engage in energetic foraging, swiftly hopping along slender branches and twigs to gather caterpillars and other insects. Male warblers serenade from elevated vantage points with their melodious, whistling tunes.
  • Habitat: During the breeding season, Yellow Warblers inhabit dense shrubbery and woodlands, often favoring areas adjacent to waterways and wetlands. They commonly nest among a variety of trees such as willows, alders, and cottonwoods throughout North America.
  • Range: Common in the summer months all over the state.
  • Fun Fact: The Yellow Warbler’s nests are often targeted by the Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater) for parasitism. When this occurs, the warbler may construct a new nest directly over the parasitized one, occasionally resulting in nests with multiple tiers, sometimes reaching up to six tiers in total.

Pine Warbler (Setophaga pinus)

  • Features: Pine Warblers are robust warblers characterized by their substantial size, long tails, and sturdy bills. Typically, the tail’s tip displays a central notch. These birds exhibit a yellowish hue with olive backs, whitish bellies, and notable white wingbars against gray wings. Among them, adult males showcase the brightest plumage, while females and juveniles appear more subdued, sometimes even displaying a gray-brown tone. Although Pine Warblers lack the pronounced patterns seen in other warbler species, their facial features may exhibit a faint “spectacled” appearance, with a pale eyering connected to a light stripe in front of the eye.
  • Behavior: Observing Pine Warblers can be challenging as they tend to inhabit the upper reaches of pine trees. Their diet primarily consists of insects, although they also consume fruits and seeds. On occasion, they may forage on the ground or visit feeders. Male Pine Warblers produce even, melodious trills while perched atop pine trees.
  • Habitat: The name “Pine Warbler” suits this bird well, as it predominantly occupies pine trees for much of its time. Whether in pine forests or mixed deciduous woods with pine, they’re often spotted in such habitats. During winter, they inhabit similar environments but may also venture into backyards, where they feed on seeds and suet provided at bird feeders.
  • Range: Fairly common summer visitors to all of Wisconsin, with some birds staying through the winter.
  • Fun Fact: Unlike most warblers that are insectivores, Pine Warblers sometimes feed on seeds and fruits, especially in winter.

Palm Warbler (Setophaga palmarum)

  • Features: Palm Warblers, though classified as small songbirds, lean towards the larger end for warblers and present a fuller belly appearance. Their stance resembles that of pipits, particularly noticeable when they are on the ground. Their tails and legs are longer compared to most warblers, contributing to their pipit-like silhouette. Palm Warblers exhibit a dull brownish-olive hue above with yellow undersides of the tail and throat. During flight, the outer corners of their tails flash white. In eastern populations, the belly is yellow, while in western counterparts, it appears white. Sexes appear similar, and during the breeding season, they sport a rusty cap and some rusty streaking on the belly. Nonbreeding individuals showcase paler yellow undertails and a subdued brown crown.
  • Behavior: This bird’s distinctive behavior, characterized by near-constant tail-wagging, often aids in its identification. It primarily forages in open ground or low vegetation, distinguishing it from many warblers that predominantly inhabit the forest canopy. Nonetheless, they do exhibit singing behavior from elevated perches in trees and shrubs.
  • Habitat: In migration and winter, Palm Warblers inhabit diverse habitats such as weedy fields, forest edges, and fence rows, often characterized by scattered trees and shrubs. For breeding, they venture to the boreal forests of the far north, where they prefer bogs adorned with scattered evergreen trees and dense ground cover.
  • Range: Common visitor in much of Wisconsin, particularly in May and September-October.
  • Fun Fact: Despite its name suggesting a tropical origin, the Palm Warbler is among the most northerly breeding warblers, second only to the Blackpoll Warbler (S. striata). Its name stems from J. P. Gmelin, who named the species after a specimen collected on Hispaniola, a Caribbean island known for its abundance of palm trees.

Canada Warbler (Cardellina canadensis)

  • Features: Canada Warblers are compact and well-proportioned birds, featuring a straight, pointed bill. Their tails, slightly longer than those of other warblers, give them a fuller appearance around the chest area. These warblers sport a steely blue-gray upper plumage and vibrant yellow underparts, accentuated by a prominent whitish eyering. Particularly striking in adult males is the broken black necklace across the chest, a distinguishing feature. While females also exhibit a necklace pattern, it’s less pronounced.
  • Behavior: It moves swiftly, hopping and fluttering among branches in the understory, often with its tail held at an angle.
  • Habitat: Located in mixed coniferous and deciduous forests with a shrubby understory, it commonly inhabits wooded wetlands in the central portion of its range.
  • Range: An uncommon summer migrant throughout the state.
  • Fun Fact: Canada Warblers embark on an impressive journey of over 3,000 miles from their wintering grounds in South America to their breeding grounds in the United States and Canada.

Wilson’s Warbler (Cardellina pusilla)

  • Features: Wilson’s Warblers rank among the smallest warblers, characterized by their elongated, slender tails and petite, thin bills. Despite their small size, they exhibit a rounded body and a relatively large head. Adorned in bright yellow beneath and yellowish-olive above, they feature striking black eyes against their yellow cheeks. Male Wilson’s Warblers sport a notable black cap, while adult females display varying degrees of black atop their heads, ranging from a few blackish feathers to a small dark cap. Juvenile females showcase an olive crown and a yellow eyebrow.
  • Behavior: Wilson’s Warblers exhibit restless movements as they dart between perches and swiftly navigate through the understory with rapid wingbeats. Diverging from the typical behavior of warblers, they predominantly inhabit the understory, where they seize insects either by hovering or by plucking them from foliage.
  • Habitat: During the breeding season, Wilson’s Warblers inhabit mountain meadows and thickets adjacent to streams, particularly favoring areas with willows and alders. They also nest along the peripheries of lakes, bogs, and stands of aspen. Throughout migration, they traverse woodlands, suburban landscapes, desert scrub, and shrubby regions near waterways.
  • Range: Uncommon visitors in the main migration months all over the state.
  • Fun Fact: The renowned naturalist Alexander Wilson, often hailed as the “father of American ornithology,” first described the Wilson’s Warbler in 1811, initially naming it the “green black-capt flycatcher.”

Summer Tanager (Female) (Piranga rubra)

  • Features: Summer Tanagers are medium-sized songbirds with robust bodies and prominent heads. They feature large, thick bills with blunt tips. Females and juvenile males exhibit a vibrant yellow-green hue, with the yellow more pronounced on the head and underparts, while the back and wings tend to be slightly greener. Their bills are pale in color. During molting, immature males may display patches of yellow and red plumage.
  • Behavior: Summer Tanagers typically inhabit the upper reaches of forest canopies, where they perch quietly before darting out to capture flying insects or carefully glean food from tree branches. Males produce a melodious, whistling song reminiscent of an American Robin, while both sexes emit a unique pit-ti-tuck call.
  • Habitat: During the breeding season, you can find them in the vicinity of openings and edges within open forests, especially those with deciduous trees or mixed pine-oak woodlands.
  • Range: Scarce visitors scattered across Wisconsin through most of the year.
  • Fun Fact: After catching bees and wasps, they beat them against a branch to remove the stingers before consumption.

Scarlet Tanager (Female) (Piranga olivacea)

  • Features: Scarlet Tanagers are medium-sized songbirds with robust proportions. They possess sturdy, rounded bills ideal for capturing insects and consuming fruit. Their heads are relatively large, and their tails are somewhat short and broad. Females and fall immatures exhibit an olive-yellow hue with darker olive wings and tails. Following the breeding season, adult males undergo a molt, adopting a plumage resembling that of females, albeit with black wings and tail.
  • Behavior: During the summer, Scarlet Tanagers primarily feed on insects but also consume fruit during migration and on the wintering grounds. They often conceal themselves among the broad leaves of deciduous trees in the forest canopy, making them difficult to spot. Their song is described as burry and rambling, while their distinctive call is a harsh “chick-burr.”
  • Habitat: During the breeding season, Scarlet Tanagers inhabit deciduous and mixed deciduous-evergreen forests across eastern North America. They tend to prefer large, undisturbed areas of forest, as they are somewhat sensitive to habitat fragmentation. During migration, they can be found in a wider range of forested and shrubby habitats, including backyards.
  • Range: Common visitors in the summer months throughout the whole state.
  • Fun Fact: The female Scarlet Tanager produces a song akin to that of the male, albeit softer, shorter, and less abrasive. She vocalizes in response to the male’s song and while collecting nesting materials.

Threats and Conservation

In Wisconsin, birds face various threats to their habitats and populations, including habitat loss due to urbanization, agriculture, and forestry practices, as well as climate change and pollution. Conservation efforts are crucial to mitigate these threats, and organizations like the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Partnership (WBCP) and Audubon Wisconsin play significant roles. WBCP coordinates collaborative efforts among government agencies, conservation organizations, and private citizens to conserve bird populations and their habitats. The Audubon Society’s local chapters engage in habitat restoration, bird monitoring programs, and advocacy for bird-friendly policies. Through these initiatives, efforts are underway to protect and preserve Wisconsin’s diverse bird species for future generations.

Citizen Science

Citizen science plays a vital role in bird research and conservation efforts in Wisconsin, enabling volunteers to contribute valuable data while fostering public engagement with nature. Platforms like eBird, managed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, allow birders of all skill levels to record and share their bird observations, providing researchers with extensive datasets for studying bird populations, distributions, and migration patterns. These initiatives not only enhance our understanding of Wisconsin’s avian biodiversity but also empower individuals to actively participate in bird conservation efforts.

Conclusion

The incredible diversity and sheer brilliance of yellow birds in Wisconsin shouldn’t be missed. From spring warblers passing through on migration to the flock of goldfinches outside your window, these species make the state richer. Thoughtful conservation initiatives can ensure yellow birds continue brightening Wisconsin’s landscapes for generations.