All About Birds Blog

When Will Yellow Warblers Return? Check Our Animated Map

By on Tuesday, March 18th, 2014 - 12 Comments


The rest of the world calls it spring fever, but for birders it’s FOY season. That’s shorthand for “first of year sightings,” and it’s that tantalizing time when the first rock-solid signs of spring start to gain the upper hand over frigid mornings. Some of the earliest returnees to look for are Red-winged Blackbirds, Eastern Phoebes, Tree Swallows—and that buttery ball of sunshine in the photo above.

Yellow Warblers are among the first of the spring warblers to move en masse up the North American continent in spring. They’re also among the most conspicuous—fairly easy to see as they forage about frenetically in bushes or perch at the tops of shrubs and small trees to sing loud and proud. Both males and females are bright lemon yellow, though males also have reddish-chestnut streaking on their chest. In fact, studies suggest that a Yellow Warbler’s streaking may be a sign of his behavior—the more streaking, the more aggressive a male acts toward other males.

So when can you count on seeing your first Yellow Warbler (or hearing its sweet-sweet-I’m-so-sweet song)? Naturally, it depends on where in North America you live. But Benjamin Van Doren (a Cornell undergrad) and Andrew Farnsworth of our BirdCast project delved into the eBird database to make this animated map. It shows the slow-and-then-sudden invasion of returning Yellow Warblers, day by day, from March 15 to June 15. (The data were grouped by state and the patterns should be regarded as approximate.)

Check it out—and let us know how closely it matches the date of your first sighting.

yellow warbler migration map - animated

Redder colors indicate a higher percentage of eBird checklists reporting Yellow Warblers for a given location and date. Source: BirdCast/Benjamin Van Doren.

Quick Facts About Yellow Warblers

Migration: In spring Yellow Warblers depart their wintering grounds in Central America and northern South America. They typically begin reaching the southern border of the U.S. in March and early April. By May they’re setting up breeding territories in shrubby thickets and woods—particularly along streams, rivers, and wetlands—across the northern two-thirds of the continent.

Song: Yellow Warblers sing vociferously in spring and early summer, and theirs is one of the easier bird songs to learn. The common mnemonic is sweet-sweet-sweet-I’m so sweet! You can listen to its song in our Macaulay Library.

Population Status: Locally, Yellow Warbler populations can be harmed by the disappearance of their nesting habitat, such as removal of willows along creeks. And their nests are often parasitized by Brown-headed Cowbirds—that is, cowbirds sneak into Yellow Warbler nests and lay their eggs. But across their broad range, Yellow Warblers are one of the most numerous warblers in North America (with an estimated population of 90 million) and their numbers seem stable.

Learn more about Yellow Warblers in our online species guide.


Indigo Bunting by Bryan Hix via Birdshare.

Find out when other migrants are near you: Take a look at our eBird Occurrence Maps; moving range maps for over 50 species including:

And check out the cool migratory patterns for these species:

(Top image: Yellow Warbler by Keith Williams via Birdshare)

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  1. Jason Leonard says:


  2. sara says:

    Attractive animation and good visual info. Curious why Michigan’s upper pennisula is not on the map. Are there no reports from there?

  3. Molly Thompson says:

    Nice, but I’m also wondering why Minnesota seems to be missing.

  4. mary fleming says:

    We seen four yellow warblers this morning April 7 2014 in ravenna Nebraska.

  5. Nancy says:

    Where is the upper peninsula of Michigan? On May 18, 1996, we had a large “irruption” of warblers here in the central upper peninsula. We had Canada warbler, blackburnian warbler,yellow rumped warbler, and kirtland’s warbler fly into our backyard. It was very exciting. Please don’t forget us. We are not too far from Whitefish Point bird observatory. There are lots of bird watchers up here in the “U.P.”!

  6. Frances Batycki says:

    Where’s Canada? I donate when I can and share messages and I get Facebook posts which I share with other Canadians. We would like to know we are part of the picture too. Sad, in BC.

  7. Karen Jaszewski says:

    Ditto. Canada reports warblers, too!

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  11. phyllis warren says:

    I just saw a yellow warbler for the first time it was so tiny and so bright yellow. I could not believe my eyes. Was so pretty feasting on bugs on the branches of a tree. I usually see birds in pairs but this one appeared to be alone. I have been feeding birds in my back yard for nine years and this is the first yellow bird ever.

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