Yellow-Rumped Warbler

Setophaga coronata
Range Map

Yellow-Rumped Warblers are anything but rare in North America. From Panama to Alaska to the Canadian Maritime Provinces, they either breed, spend the winter, or migrate through.

Until recently, we used Dendroica (meaning belonging to a tree) as the genus for these birds. Setophaga (moth eater) is now the preferred name <sigh>. At one time, we classified the Yellow-Rumped Warbler as two (or perhaps four) separate species. While their breeding ranges overlap, where they spend winters does not. The Audubon’s Warbler (Setophaga coronata auduboni) winters primarily in the west, and the Myrtle Warbler Setophaga coronata coronata) in the east. We rarely see the Myrtle Warbler on the west coast of the USA. The Audubon’s Warbler is most commonly found here. In 1973, we classified them as the same species (lumped), but separated them into different subspecies. Genetic studies from 2006 suggest it is less than clear whether we should classify these birds as full species, or continue as subspecies in their taxonomy. My money’s on a split.

Today’s science recognises four subspecies of Yellow-Rumped Warbler:

  • S. c. coronata or Myrtle Warbler breeds from south-central Alaska through British Columbia and east to Newfoundland and south through the Appalachians to West Virginia. They spend winters across the southeastern United States and northern Mexico, and south to Panama and the West Indies, and sometimes west of the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific coast.
  • S. c. auduboni or Audubon’s Warbler breeds from central British Columbia and western Alberta south through the mountains of western USA to northern Mexico, and in the southern USA to west Texas. They spend winters across western North America, and south through Mexico to northern Central America.
  • S. c. nigrifrons or the Black-Fronted Warbler lives in north-central Mexico.
  • S. c. goldmani or the Goldman’s Warbler lives in southern Mexico and northern Central America.

In my southern California yard, I can count on winter visits from Audubon’s Warblers. I often meet dozens per day while they enjoy the water feature I’ve provided for them. Occasionally, we will get the odd Myrtle Warbler out west, where they enjoy a celebrity status when found. I visited Texas in 2020 and 2021, and learned the reverse was true; Myrtles were commonplace, and Audubon’s were unusual. Oddly, when I visited northwestern Canada in 2022, I saw Yellow-Rumped Warblers most places I visited, and all were Myrtle Warblers. Who’da Thunk?

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