Yellow-rumped Warbler ID: Audubon's, Myrtle, or Intergrade?

Updated: 4 days ago

Let me start by saying: I do not care how you record your birds. You can call these birds whatever you choose, but... if you want to try to improve your data records and ID skills, this may help you. If this bird blog does not help you, don't blame me! I just type words and provide photos.



The History of the Yellow-rumped Warbler


The Myrtle Warbler and Audubon's Warbler were previously considered two species. If you did not know that, you might have been born after 1973 (raises hand). The two "species" were lumped into the "Yellow-rumped Warbler." Some people, such as Kenn Kaufman, hated this move by the AOS (previously AOU). Kaufman called the Yellow-rumped Warbler-name "bland" and "unflattering." I say this to Kenn Kaufman: you bite your tongue, Kenn Kaufman! Any bird that has "rump" in its name has a great bird name. Without "yellow-rumped," we might not have the affectionate nickname "Butterbutt." And certainly, it is a much better name than a bird being described using a surname like Cassin's, Baird's, or some other flowery tart (that's called throwing shade at the Duke of Rivoli - long live the Magnificent Hummingbird).


Everyone calm down. We can agree this is an amazing bird, with striking features. Back to the serious information. Well, serious-ish.



The Yellow-rumped Warbler (YRWA) is one species according to current* taxonomy. However, it is still split into four subspecies, with two of those subspecies being common in the US and Canada: coronata (Myrtle) and auduboni (Audubon's). For this post, we will only use the common English subspecies names.


The two subspecies that are the topic of this post, Audubon’s Yellow-rumped Warbler and Myrtle Yellow-rumped Warbler, can breed together to create an intergrade. Fun fact, an intergrade is not the same as a hybrid. The difference? An intergrade is the product of two subspecies or subspecies groups, and a hybrid is the product of two species. Confused? Do not fear! Most of this post is images.


Let's do a quick recap:


1972: Audubon's Warbler and Myrtle Warbler

1973: Yellow-rumped Warbler with 2 groups: Audubon's Yellow-rumped Warbler and Myrtle Yellow-rumped Warbler.

1989: I was born. Not really an important part of this timeline...

2016: Kenn Kaufman insults YRWA

2017: RIP Magnificent Hummingbird, flowery tarts get birds named after them

2019: I am writing this article.



Identification of the Yellow-rumped Warbler Subspecies


We will start with basic tips for the two common subspecies. Be patient, the images may take a moment to load. I compressed everything for faster loading time but did not wish to remove too much quality from the photos. I focus on males in this post, as they are much easier to ID in the field. Females are generally duller and have more buffy/brown/gray than males.



Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon's)



1. Yellow throat, does not extend to auriculars - (MYWA: white throat and extends to under auriculars)

2. White eye-arcs only - (MYWA: a white supraloral spot and white supercilium stripe)

3. Blue to slatey-blue auriculars and "under-auriculars" - (MYWA: black to slatey-black auriculars with a white or white-ish "under-auricular)

4. Solid to mostly-solid black chest (MYWA: distinct bold streaks)



Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle)



1. White throat that extends to under auriculars (AUWA: yellow throat, does not extend to auriculars)

2. White eye-arcs with a white supraloral spot and white supercilium stripe (AUWA: white eye-arcs only)

3. Black to slatey-black auriculars with a white or white-ish "under-auricular (AUWA: blue to slatey-blue auriculars and "under-auriculars")

4. Distinct bold streaks (AUWA: solid to mostly-solid black chest)





Yellow-rumped Warbler Intergrades


Yellow-rumped Warbler Intergrade

1. A white throat with yellow centralized OR a yellow throat with white-edging (occasionally yellow is faint to nonexistent)

2. Obvious white supraloral spot or supercilium OR very faint to non-existent supraloral spot or supercilium

3. Black to blackish auriculars with white to whiteish "under-auriculars"

4. Bold chest streaks OR solid black OR combination




No single trait can guarantee an intergrade. Attempt to use a combination of traits to identify the bird in question. Remember, this post focuses on males; females add new elements to this discussion, that this post does not have time to contribute to.




Yellow-rumped Warbler Range Maps


The range maps below will not provide a foolproof method for Yellow-rumped Warbler subspecies identification. Instead, they are another piece of the identification puzzle that can help to support your ID's.



Audubon's Yellow-rumped Warbler Range Map

Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon's) Range Map


Myrtle Yellow-rumped Warbler Range Map

Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle) Range Map


Yellow-rumped Warbler Intergrade Range Map

Yellow-rumped Warbler (Intergrade) Range Map


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Yellow-rumped Warbler Quiz


Decide if each pictured bird is an AUWA, MYWA, intergrade, or cannot be determined and must be called a YRWA. Never be afraid to use YRWA. Not every bird can be identified down to subspecific levels.


All answers will be at the bottom of this post. HINT: Use your numbers!


1. AUWA, MYWA, Intergrade, or YRWA?

2. AUWA, MYWA, Intergrade, or YRWA?

3. AUWA, MYWA, Intergrade, or YRWA?


Now for some photos with no help!


4. AUWA, MYWA, Intergrade, or YRWA?

5. AUWA, MYWA, Intergrade, or YRWA?

6. AUWA, MYWA, Intergrade, or YRWA?

7. AUWA, MYWA, Intergrade, or YRWA?

8. AUWA, MYWA, Intergrade, or YRWA?

9. AUWA, MYWA, Intergrade, or YRWA?

10. AUWA, MYWA, Intergrade, or YRWA?


Answers to Quiz:


1. Intergrade

2. Intergrade

3. MYWA (I would not argue against an intergrade on this bird. There may be a faint amount of yellow, and the white supercilium is limited.)

4. Intergrade

5. AUWA

6. Intergrade

7. MYWA

8. Intergrade

9. AUWA

10. MYWA


How did you do? Share in the comments section!


*Final Note: This all may be irrelevant very soon. There are a lot of genetics works being done that may lead to a split of the Yellow-rumped Warbler into 3+ species. But thanks for reading anyway...



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