Male. Note: bold yellow supercilium, streaked flanks, and rufous streaked back.
  • Male. Note: bold yellow supercilium, streaked flanks, and rufous streaked back.
  • Female. Note: muted streaks on sides.

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Prairie Warbler

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

General Description

Adults have a brownish-green back with chestnut streaks, bright yellow underparts, black streaking on the sides, faint wingbars, a yellow eyebrow and dark line through the eye, and a yellow cheek patch. Immatures are much plainer; consult field guides for separating them from similar plumages of other Dendroica warblers. Among Washington’s regularly occurring warblers, Prairie Warbler could be mistaken for Townsend’s Warbler in some plumages. However, unlike Townsend’s it typically forages in brush and low branches rather than high in the canopy, and bobs its tail constantly.

The Prairie Warbler nests east of the Great Plains from southern New England and the lower Midwest to the Gulf Coast, and winters in southern Florida and the West Indies. It is an accidental fall vagrant in the Pacific Northwest, almost exclusively along the coast. Oregon has nine records, British Columbia has three, and Idaho has none. Washington’s only record, at Wallula (Walla Walla County) on 20 December 1989, is unusual but not unparalleled both for its location and for its date. The Northwest has two other winter records—a bird at Newport, Oregon, 6–26 December 1995, and another 18 December 1993–25 January 1994 at Masset in the Queen Charlotte Islands, British Columbia. The only other records from the interior Northwest were at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon, on 10 September 1999, and a sight record from 17 June 1977 in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia. The latter is also the only spring record of Prairie Warbler for the Northwest.

Revised November 2007

North American Range Map

North America map legend

Federal Endangered Species ListAudubon/American Bird Conservancy Watch ListState Endangered Species ListAudubon Washington Vulnerable Birds List
Yellow List

View full list of Washington State's Species of Special Concern