Male. Note: black cap and white cheeks.
  • Male. Note: black cap and white cheeks.
  • Female. Note: bright yellow legs and feet.

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Blackpoll Warbler

Dendroica striata
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

    Solid black cap, white cheek, and black-streaked back and underparts make the breeding-plumaged male unmistakable. In all other plumages, however, the Blackpoll Warbler is much plainer and subject to confusion with similar plumages of other warblers of the genus Dendroica that show two white wing bars and an overall yellowish or greenish coloration, with or without some streaking on the sides. The white undertail coverts are a useful mark; consult field guides for other identification clues.

    The Blackpoll Warbler nests in taiga and boreal forests from Alaska across northern Canada to Labrador, south on mountaintops into New England and upstate New York. Its spring and fall migration routes take it across the Caribbean to and from wintering grounds in South America, some birds traveling as far south as Argentina. This is perhaps the most common vagrant “eastern” warbler in the West. California records a hundred or more Blackpoll visitors in a typical year but they are much less common farther north. In the Pacific Northwest, Blackpoll Warbler breeds in the northern part of British Columbia but occurs only casually in the southern part of the province and along the coast. This species is a casual, nearly annual visitor in Washington with about 20 records, all but two of which occurred in fall and all but two east of the Cascades. It is rare but annual in both Idaho and Oregon, with 75–80 percent of the records from fall and the rest in spring.

    Revised November 2007

    North American Range Map

    North America map legend

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