Yellow Warbler

Setophaga petechia
Range Map

The Yellow Warbler and its various subspecies (today’s scientists recognise 37) breed in most of North America from the tundra southwards. There seems to be no breeding going on for this species in southeastern USA and the eastern southwestern states. When the breeding cycle is over, these birds fly south, staying in southern Mexico, Central America and northern South America.

Yellow Warblers love riparian habitats, and moist areas with plenty of small trees. They build their nest in a vertical fork, anywhere from 10 to 40 feet from the ground. Brown-Headed Cowbirds often parasitize the nest of the Yellow Warbler, but their defensive response is to build a new nest on top of the old one and laying fresh eggs. It might require several layers in a season if the cowbird persists in laying eggs in the warbler’s nest.

I’ve met Yellow Warblers throughout many of the western states in the USA. These birds make lovely subjects to photograph, but in places where there is a high canopy, they can be elusive and difficult to capture. Persistence can pay off. I think they are some of the brightest shining stars in the galaxy of warblers.

With 37 subspecies recognised, there are too many to describe in detail here. I can pass along that there are four groups of subspecies, with some overlap in their ranges:

  • Aestiva Group ( or Yellow Warbler group has six members)
    • Includes S. p. aestiva, D. p. sonorana, S. p. dugesi, S. p. rubiginosa, S. p. amnicola, and S. p. sonorana.
    • The birds we generally find in North America are from this group.
  • Erithachorides Group (or Mangrove Warbler group has eleven members)
    • Includes S. p. erithachorides, S. p. chrysendeta, S. p. paraguanae, S. p. cienagae, S. p. castaneiceps, S. p. rhizophorae, S. p. xanthotera, S. p. aequatorialis, S. p. peruviana, and S. p. aureola.
  • Aureola Group (or Galapagos Yellow Warbler group has one member)
    • S. p. aureola
  • Petechia Group (or Golden Warbler group has sixteen members)
    • Includes S. p. rufivertex, S. p. armouri, S. p. flavida, S. p. eoa, S. p. gundlachi, S. p. albicollis, S. p. cruciana, S. p. bartholemica, S. p. melanoptera, S. p. ruficapilla, S. p. babad, S. p. petechia, S. p. alsiosa, S. p. rufopileata, S. p. obscura, and S. p. aurifrons.

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