Male. Note: dark auriculars and dusky cap.
  • Male. Note: dark auriculars and dusky cap.
  • Juvenile. Note: greenish olive above and yellow below.

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Kentucky Warbler

Oporornis formosus
Members of this diverse group make up more than half of the bird species worldwide. Most are small. However their brains are relatively large and their learning abilities are greater than those of most other birds. Passerine birds are divided into two suborders, the suboscines and the oscines. Oscines are capable of more complex song, and are considered the true songbirds. In Washington, the tyrant flycatchers are the only suboscines; the remaining 27 families are oscines.
This large group of small, brightly colored songbirds is a favorite of many birdwatchers. Wood-warblers, usually called “warblers” for short by Americans, are strictly a New World family. Most of the North American members of this group are migratory, returning in the winter to the tropics where the family originated. Warblers that nest in the understory tend to have pink legs and feet, while those that inhabit the treetops usually have black legs and feet. North American males are typically brightly colored, many with patches of yellow. Most North American warblers do not molt into a drab fall/winter plumage; the challenge posed to those trying to identify warblers in the fall results from looking at mostly juvenile birds. Their songs are generally dry, unmusical, often complex whistles (“warbles”). Warblers that live high in the treetops generally have higher-pitched songs than those that live in the understory. Warblers eat insects gleaned from foliage or captured in the air. Many supplement their insect diet with some seeds and fruit, primarily in fall and winter, and some also eat nectar. Most are monogamous. The female usually builds the nest and incubates four to five eggs for up to two weeks. Both members of the pair feed the young.
  • Species of Concern

General Description

A resident of damp, shady deciduous forests, the Kentucky Warbler hops on the ground on long legs, foraging in leaf litter and usually staying close to cover in dense undergrowth, although it may sing from exposed branches. It is a rather plain-looking bird with olive upperparts, bright yellow underparts all the way to the chin, dark face, yellow “spectacles” rather like some vireos, and no wingbars or tail spots; adults have a dark crown. It may suggest certain plumages of other warblers of the genus Oporornis or of Common Yellowthroat, although these should be readily separable with careful attention and a decent view.

The Kentucky Warbler nests east of the Great Plains throughout much of the lower Midwest, the Middle Atlantic states, and the Southeast. Most winter from southern Mexico to Panama, taking a trans-Gulf migration route. This species is relatively less common as a vagrant in the West than most other “eastern” warblers. Oregon has four records, all of them between May and July in the south central interior of the state. Washington has only one, on 14 June 1992 near Darrington (Snohomish County), and there are no records for Idaho or British Columbia.

Revised November 2007

North American Range Map

North America map legend

Federal Endangered Species ListAudubon/American Bird Conservancy Watch ListState Endangered Species ListAudubon Washington Vulnerable Birds List
Yellow List

View full list of Washington State's Species of Special Concern