Breeding male
  • Breeding male
  • 1st winter

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Bay-breasted Warbler

Dendroica castanea
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.

    General Description

    The Bay-breasted Warbler nests in boreal forests, usually with a spruce component, from southeastern Yukon across central Canada to the northern Great Lakes, New England, and Atlantic Canada. It winters from Costa Rica and Panama to Colombia and Venezuela, migrating for the most part across the Gulf of Mexico. Although it nests uncommonly in the lowlands of northeastern British Columbia, east of the Rocky Mountain crest, it is no more than a casual visitor in the rest of the province and the northwestern United States. Washington has three records: 27 June 2002 at Granite Falls (Snohomish County; not accepted by the state bird records committee), 21 September 2002 at Moses Lake (Grant County), and 5–7 June 2006 at Chehalis (Lewis County). Idaho has seven records, five from fall and two from spring, although none of these has yet been reviewed by the state bird records committee. Oregon’s eight accepted records—all of them from the central and eastern parts of the state—are concentrated in spring and summer, with only one in fall (September).

    All plumages show greenish upperparts, streaked back, two prominent white wing bars, and unstreaked underparts. Breeding-plumaged adults are easy to identify, with bay crown, upper breast, and flanks; dark face; and buffy sides to the neck. Immatures and fall birds are among the most confusing of all warblers, even with good views. Separation from Blackpoll Warbler can be particularly troublesome. Consult advanced field guides for the subtler points.

    Revised November 2007

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

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