Updated: Apr 15
In an effort to introduce you to some new birds, stoke discussion, and share hot takes straight from the Ovenbird, I present to you our top ten warblers of North America!
The warblers of North America (minus Mexico) may share a surname with similar birds from the eastern hemisphere, but the warblers of Europe and Asia cannot hold a candle to the colorful diversity found in the west. The US and Canada are responsible for 50+ species of warblers boasting plumages of yellow, red, orange, black, white, blue, green, and many more! The majority of these warblers are migrants and delight bird-lovers across the continent when they pass through most locales.
Want to take better photos of warblers? Check out our guide to birding cameras!
Why would I rank warblers? Maybe I am bored. Maybe I like a little controversy. Or maybe, this is just a silly list that should not be taken seriously. Most of our content is enjoyed from the porcelain throne anyway, so flush your warbler anger down the drain about my selections! As you read and your legs go numb, the warbler names with links will take you to deeper levels of information on each species.
Without further softening of the future tempers, here are my top ten warblers! If you have a great disagreement with any placement or omission, argue in the comments below!
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Learn more about North America's warblers!
The best field guide for warblers: The Warbler Guide.
10. American Redstart
The American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla) is one of the most colorful species of warbler. Adult males have a delightful combination of orange and black, while females and young males have a striking contrast of yellow and black or yellow and gray. This small songbird uses its colorful tail as a method of hunting. It will "flash" or "fan" its tail to flush prey items from their hiding places. This intricate behavior also serves as a form of communication between individuals. As a species, populations have likely declined slightly since the 1960s.
What I like about the American Redstart
The unique feeding behavior, song repertoire, and the name 'redstart' are the three big reasons that I place the American Redstart on this list. The extreme differences in plumage between males and females (yellowstarts) also allow for somewhat quick identification of the sexes. This feature is appreciated greatly by birdwatchers.
What I don't like about the American Redstart
Considering this species is seen throughout Canada and spends much of its annual life cycle in the tropics, I would like to see an update to its forename. Personally, I'd appreciate a name like 'Fiery Redstart' or 'Fancy Redstart.' However, even with this weak name, I still place this warbler high in my rankings.
09. Magnolia Warbler
The Magnolia Warbler (Setophaga magnolia) is a warbler found breeding throughout the boreal forests of North America. They winter primarily in Central America and the Caribbean. They are a species frequently seen during migration in the eastern and southern United States, and their yellow, black, gray, and white plumage allows for quick and pain-free identification. Like the American Redstart, the Magnolia Warbler uses its distinct tail pattern to flush prey species when foraging.
What I like about the Magnolia Warbler
First, great name. Even though this species is known to primarily breed in conifers, it gets its name from a flowering plant, the magnolia tree. Again, the ballerina feeding style makes this warbler an enjoyment to watch.
What I don't like about the Magnolia Warbler
The song of this warbler is short and uninspiring. Seriously, how can it call itself a warbler with such a puny vocal repertoire? Also, the females do not get enough appreciation for their splendor. That is right. I'm blaming birdwatchers for one reason this warbler does not rank higher.
08. Blackburnian Warbler
Ah, yes. The Flying Fire. The Feathered Flame. The Blackburnian Warbler (Setophaga fusca) is known for the flame-colored throat and face plumage that makes it stand out amongst the green foliage it feeds among. This fiery warbler is found only in the northeastern coniferous forests of North America during the breeding season, and it spends much of its winter in southern Central America and the northern reaches of South America.
What I like about the Blackburnian Warbler
That. Plumage. Is. Killer.
What I don't like about the Blackburnian Warbler
The Blackburnian Warbler is a treetop feeder, which can make for difficult viewing. Seriously, trying to enjoy this species can offer a serious case of warbler neck. Can I just get an eye-level view once in a while?! Not showing off that crackin' plumage definitely caused the Blackburnian Warbler to fall in these rankings.
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07. Worm-eating Warbler
What the Worm-eating Warbler (Helmitheros vermivorum) lacks in flashy, colorful plumage, it makes up for with its unique behavior and subtle beauty. While called a "worm-eater," this warbler's diet consists mostly of caterpillars. However, at the time of naming, caterpillars were referred to as worms. Thus, the Worm-eating Warbler was named. To find caterpillars, the Worm-eating Warbler works the understory and probes into suspended living and dead leaves. In addition to caterpillars, spiders are also a main food item. If you hate spiders, you will LOVE the Worm-eating Warbler. This species only breeds in the lower 48 states and winters in the Yucatan through Central America and the Caribbean.
What I like about the Worm-eating Warbler
The species name vermivorum is Latin for "devouring worms." I can appreciate this, as my scientific name would likely be enchiladavorum. A properly named bird is always highly ranked in my flocking rankings. Additionally, ground-nesting warblers, like the Worm-eating Warbler, create some of the most intricate and interesting nests. They create a cup nest in ground hollows, made of leaves and sporophyte stems, and shaped by the female continually sitting and shifting in the cup with wet feathers. Their interior decoration skills may be unrivaled, as the inside of the nest, when fresh, is burnt orange-red and it becomes a rich mahogany color as the nest ages.
What I don't like about the Worm-eating Warbler
With a limited range and duller plumage, this warbler cannot hold up against many of the top warblers in this list. While its nest construction is impressive, our number one warbler cannot be beaten when it comes to nest-building.
06. Black-throated Blue Warbler
The Black-throated Blue Warbler (Setophaga caerulescens) is one of the most striking warblers on this list. With blue upper parts, a black face, throat, and flanks, and white underparts, this warbler is quite photogenic. The females are quite simple in appearance, and they differ so much from the males, they were once believed to be a different species of warbler! They are found in the northeastern US and southern Canada. They require large tracts of undisturbed hardwood and mixed deciduous-coniferous forests.
What I like about the Black-throated Blue Warbler
Birds with blue feathers are not common. Any bird with blue plumage automatically gets placed higher on most lists we are likely to make. Additionally, this species has a simple molt pattern, as it does not have an entirely different appearance in the fall and winter like other warblers, such as the Magnolia Warbler, do. The song of this species is buzzy and fun, earning this mnemonic device describing it: I-am-so-la-zee.
What I don't like about the Black-throated Blue Warbler
Limited range and habitat are two of the top issues with this species ranking higher on this list. Also, the female warbler could certainly be a bit more intricately colored. It primarily winters in the Caribbean, and since I am jealous of that fact, I had to drop it to number six on this ranking.
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05. Colima Warbler
This drab little warbler, the Colima Warbler (Leiothlypis crissalis), is only found in and around Big Bend National Park in Texas, outside of its typical breeding range in Mexico. This species is fairly understudied due to its limited range in the US, and its small breeding and wintering range in Mexico. What gives this warbler such a high rank? It is difficult to find! In the US, you might have to hike 10+ miles in the Chisos Mountains to catch a rare glimpse!
What I like about the Colima Warbler
I have made the hike. I have seen this warbler. While a limited range worked against many of the above species, it works in favor of the Colima Warbler.
What I don't like about the Colima Warbler
I had to make this 10+ mile hike only to see the Colima Warbler for 2.5 seconds.
04. Yellow-rumped Warbler
The Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata) may be one of the first warbler species for any new birdwatcher to identify. Why? Their namesake ID mark is as easy to see as a bright yellow rump. Wait... Regardless, this common, widespread warbler is a favorite amongst many North American birders. A combination of distinct yellow patches, slatey blue back, and strikingly patterned underparts are delightful.
What I like about the Yellow-rumped Warbler
Currently, the Yellow-rumped Warbler is considered one species with many subspecies underneath. However, this warbler will likely be split into 3+ species in the near future. Any warbler that can add to a life list is going to be ranked high on my bird lists!
Also, butterbutt. That is all.
What I don't like about the Yellow-rumped Warbler
There is not much to dislike about the Yellow-rumped Warbler. However, separating some of the subspecies and their intergrades can be a challenge!
03. Cerulean Warbler
Highly sought after by birdwatchers, the Cerulean Warbler (Setophaga cerulea) holds the number three spot on this flocking list of the best warblers. Like the striking Blackburnian Warbler holding the number eight spot, this warbler spends much of its time high in the canopy of mature deciduous forests. It is an understudied warbler species that has a population at risk of becoming threatened. It summers primarily in the Great Lakes region and winters in the northern Andes.
What I like about the Cerulean Warbler
Blue birds rock. Also, cerulean is a fun word to say. It rolls off the tongue. Seeing a Cerulean Warbler is a rare sighting compared to quite a few warbler species during migration, making it an even more intriguing warbler. Again, this species may rank higher on this list because I have seen it. Several times. Be jealous.
What I don't like about the Cerulean Warbler
Declining populations are certainly not something I like to read about. While it is not the fault of the Cerulean Warbler, unfortunately, the warbler pays the price on this list (and in the real world too.) Additionally, this is a bird with blue plumage that feeds high in the canopy, where it can blend in with a blue sky. Yikes.
Carrying a small scope while watching warblers can provide some unique views.
Check out the Celestron Hummingbird ED Scope!
02. Painted Redstart
The Painted Redstart (Myioborus pictus) is a warbler found in the pine-oak woodlands in the southwestern US and Mexico. While it is called a redstart (the genus is referred to as the whitestarts), it is not related to the American Redstart. However, it does hunt and feeds quite like the American Redstart, as it flashes its tail with vibrantly white outer feathers! This species is distinctly colored with black upperparts and candy apple red underparts.
What I like about the Painted Redstart
The coloration of the Painted Redstart is unheralded. The males and females are almost identical, effectively doubling the number of aesthetically pleasing Painted Redstarts to watch. In a running theme, this species also gets a small bump from being seen by me. In fact, my first observation of this species was in January in Mississippi. WILD.
What I don't like about the Painted Redstart
There is not much to dislike about this astounding warbler. However, it cannot quite compete with our number one warbler...
The Ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapilla) is a common warbler of deciduous forest in the east and mixed forest in the west. It has a LOUD, conspicuous song that can be heard from great distances. Their name comes from their nests which are shaped like old-fashioned dome ovens. They spend the majority of their time on the ground, hunting arthropods in the leaf litter. When they walk, they have an almost cocky appearance, earning them the nickname "Rockstar Bird."
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What I like about the Ovenbird
Loud, clear song
Aggressive defense of territory
I am listening to one sing outside my window as I write this
What I don't like about the Ovenbird
Not a single thing
Honorable Mention Warblers
While these warblers did not make our top ten list, we felt they deserved to be mentioned by name:
Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas)
Bay-breasted Warbler (Setophaga castanea)
Golden-winged Warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera)
Blackpoll Warbler (Setophaga striata)
Northern Parula (Setophaga americana)