Male. Note: blue-gray head, yellow throat, and white eye ring.
  • Male. Note: blue-gray head, yellow throat, and white eye ring.

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Nashville Warbler

Vermivora ruficapilla
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.
Common summer resident, mostly east.

    General Description

    The Nashville Warbler is closely related to the Orange-crowned Warbler. The two species are similar in size and shape, but have distinct markings. Nashville Warblers have bright yellow undersides extending from their undertail coverts to their throats, and small white patches on their bellies. They have olive-green wings and light gray heads with distinct, white eye-rings. Males and females look similar, but the adult male has a rufous crown that is less distinct in the female. For both sexes, the patch of color is difficult to see in the field.


    Nashville Warblers are usually found in hardwood and shrubby habitats. In Washington, these are often located at openings within coniferous forests, clear-cuts, wetlands, rivers, and along brushy hillsides, at low to middle elevations.


    Nashville Warblers can be seen feeding in mixed-species flocks in the fall, before and during migration. They search for food in the foliage, flicking their tails frequently. They usually forage fairly low in trees or bushes, although males generally forage higher up than females. They often find their prey at the tips of twigs, leaves, or catkins.


    Insects, especially caterpillars, make up the majority of the Nashville Warbler's diet.


    Nashville Warblers form monogamous pairs during the nesting season. The female builds the nest on the ground, usually in a low depression in moss, grass, ferns, or under bushes. The nest is an open cup made of leaves, ferns, and bark strips, lined with grass, hair, and needles, often with a rim of moss. The female incubates 4 to 5 eggs for 11 to 12 days. The male feeds the female on the nest while she incubates, and may take a turn at incubation as well. Both parents feed the young, which leave the nest 9 to 11 days after hatching.

    Migration Status

    Nashville Warblers migrate, mostly at night, to central and southern Mexico in the fall. Their fall migration is generally spread over a longer period than their spring trip, which is concentrated over a shorter time period.

    Conservation Status

    Range-wide, the population appears stable, although much of the Nashville Warbler's wintering range in Mexico is at risk of development. In addition, the wooded area along rivers, a habitat favored by Nashville Warblers, is one of the most commonly human-altered habitats in the western United States. In Washington, however, the Breeding Bird Survey has recorded a non-significant increase since 1966. This increase may be the result of clear-cuts that generate shrubby habitat. Thus the habitat created by logging may counterbalance the habitat lost in riparian areas for this species. Nashville Warblers are especially vulnerable to Brown-headed Cowbird nest parasitism.

    When and Where to Find in Washington

    The Nashville Warbler is primarily an eastern Washington species. These birds are common in appropriate habitats throughout the eastern part of the state from mid-April to late August. In western Washington, they can be found in scattered pockets in western Clark and Skamania Counties and along the upper Skagit River (Skagit and Whatcom Counties). Some years a small number can be found migrating through western Washington. They were formerly found in the Garry oak woodlands of south Puget Sound (Pierce and Thurston Counties) as well.

    Abundance Code DefinitionsAbundance

    C=Common; F=Fairly Common; U=Uncommon; R=Rare; I=Irregular
    Pacific Northwest Coast
    Puget Trough RR R
    North Cascades UUUUU
    West Cascades UFFFFUR
    East Cascades UCCCCU
    Okanogan FCCCC
    Canadian Rockies UFFFFU
    Blue Mountains RUUUUR
    Columbia Plateau UURRUU

    Washington Range Map

    North American Range Map

    North America map legend

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

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