A Striking Little Homebody: How to Attract Yellow-throated Warblers

In this post, you will learn how to attract one of the few warblers that sticks around parts the South year-round, the yellow-throated warbler, to your yard. With its bright yellow throat and contrasting black and white face, the yellow-throated warbler is a striking and handsome little garden resident.

Why yellow-throated warblers? 

It is very difficult for a bird enthusiast like myself to pick favorites, but the yellow-throated warbler is perhaps one of mine. While I find joy in all feathered critters, I’ve grown quite attached to the yellow-throated warbler pairs I regularly see in my garden. With their striking coloration, sweet clear song, and relaxed personalities, yellow-throated warblers may become one of your favorites too before long. 

As a warbler that enjoys creeping around treetops for bugs, the yellow-throated warbler is a small bird that you will need to lure down to eye-level to really appreciate. Fortunately, once your yellow-throated warblers discover feeders full of their preferred food, you’ll be enjoying their presence year round if you live within their winter range in the southeast.

Yellow-throated warbler singing
The always handsome yellow-throated warbler singing

What are yellow-throated warblers?

Yellow-throated warblers (Setophaga dominica) are in the family Parulidae or New World warblers which includes 47 species in North America from ovenbirds (Seiurus aurocapilla) to American redstarts (Setophaga ruticilla) to prothonotory warblers (Protonotaria cítrea). New World warblers likely originated in Central America and are small active birds with short pointed bills ideal for capturing insects. Within Parulidae, yellow-throated warblers are in the genus Setophaga along 34 other species of warbler including those it may be found sharing habitat with in your southern garden like pine warblers (Setophaga pinus), yellow-rumped warblers (Setophaga coronata), and northern parulas (Setophaga americana). English naturalist William Swainson coined the Genus Setophaga in 1827 from Ancient Greek meaning “moth eating”.  You might recognize William Swainson by the bird species named after him in North American such as the Swainson’s thrush (Catharus ustulatus) and Swainson’s warbler (Limnothlypis swainsonii).

Summary: Yellow-throated warbler

Scientific nameSetophaga dominica
TimingYear-round in coastal areas of Southeast
HabitatCanopy in live oak, sycamore, cypress and pine tree forests
FoodPrimarily insects
FeedersMealworms, suet, chipped sunflower

Description

The yellow-throated warbler is a little over 5 inches long and weighs about 10 grams which is equivalent to the weight of about 4 pennies. Adults have a bright yellow throat, black and white face, gray head and back and mostly white underside. Females and young males are slightly lighter than adult males, but it’s a very subtle difference. 

Warblers can be very confusing. While you may see other small birds with similar coloration, the yellow-throated warbler is the only one with yellow confined just to the throat area, a black and white face, and a gray back. To make things even more confusing, there are two other birds with “yellow throat” in their names that live in the southeast, common yellowthroats (Geothlypis thichas) and yellow-throated vireos (Vireo flavifrons). Whoever came up with these common names should apologize to all amateur birders for creating more angst when it comes to identifying an already challenging group of birds.    

Yellow-throated warbler
Yellow-throated warblers have a bright yellow throat, striking black and white face, and a white belly with black streaking on either side

I’ll give you a little detail here about the other two “yellow throats” just so you’ll have context if you’re not familiar with them and it happens to come up with your cool new bird friends. Common yellowthroats are also warblers that have yellow throats, however, they have more yellow on their underside than yellow-throated warblers. They also have a more extensive black face mask, an olive-brown back and prefer to live in thick, shrubby habitats. Yellow-throated vireos have yellow that extends from their throats across their face forming bright yellow spectacles. They do not have black marking on their faces, and similar to most vireos, they have a shorter thicker bill than yellow-throated warblers. You’ll find yellow-throated vireos in the canopies of larger deciduous forests. As far as I know, neither of these species regularly comes to feeders. 

Range

Yellow-throated warblers are a bird of the southeast, breeding primarily from Central Florida through the mid-Atlantic and west to eastern Texas and Missouri. After populations contracted in the late 1900s, yellow-throated warblers have begun to recolonizing the northern parts of their summer range with small populations nesting as far north as New York and Michigan. In the fall, yellow-throated warblers migrate south to winter in coastal areas of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas, throughout Florida and the Caribbean, and parts of Central America. Many warblers migrate from breeding areas in the boreal forests of Canada to South America, so yellow-throated warblers have a very short migration by comparison, even remaining resident in some areas of the coastal southeast and Florida. 

Yellow-throated warbler eating crane fly
Yellow-throated warbler eating a crane fly

Diet

Like most warblers, yellow-throated warblers primarily eat insects, although there’s a really cool sighting of one eating a brown anole which is a type of lizard. This is a rare observation, but apparently folks have documented warblers eating vertebrates at least two dozen times. You can read more about these ambitious warblers here if interested.

Described as yellow-throated creepers by early English naturalist Mark Catesby, yellow-throated warblers tend to crawl and hop along branches in the tree canopy, probing the bark, leaves and Spanish moss with their long bills for bugs to eat. They can be found foraging in a variety of open woodland habitats with pine, sycamore, cypress, and live oak forests as some of their favorites.    

Breeding

Yellow-throated warblers arrive on breeding grounds early in the spring often before leaf out. Resident males in my yard will begin singing as early as mid February. Their sweet song is a melodic series of descending notes that rises abruptly at the end. By late March, females are busy building their cup-shaped nest in Spanish moss hanging from the branches of live oak trees towering over my garden. Where there’s no Spanish moss, yellow-throated warblers will construct nests at the outer ends of branches 30 to over 100 feet high in the canopy. 

Females construct nests with grass, strips of bark, moss, weed stems and feathers. I watched a female yellow-throated warbler collecting spider webs off my house to add to her nest in a clump of Spanish moss. Once completed, she will lay 3 to 5 pale greenish speckled eggs. She may raise up to two broods each summer with the help of her mate.      

How to attract yellow-throated warblers?

I was really surprised the first time I saw yellow-throated warblers picking up pieces of chipped sunflower seed with their long slender pointed bill. It really didn’t seem right, like someone using tweezers to handle a sandwich. I didn’t find much online to suggest they came to feeders regularly. But mine kept coming back to awkwardly eat bits of seed they carefully selected from my dish feeders. Once I added suet and mealworms to the mix of offerings in my garden, they became regulars. 

Habitat

While yellow-throated warblers will eat at feeders, they still depend primarily on insects to meet their energetic needs and raise young. Supporting insect populations by planting native trees and shrubs and limiting use of pesticides will make it more likely yellow-throated warblers will spend time in your garden and find your feeders. As mentioned earlier, yellow-throated warblers are usually observed foraging high in the canopy of trees. A study of forest birds in Mississippi found that a lack of good canopy cover limited the abundance of yellow-throated warblers. So having some tall trees in your yard will help attract yellow-throated warblers to your garden. They seem to prefer live oaks, sycamores, cypress and pine trees including loblolly and longleaf pines. 

Yellow-throated warbler nest site in Spanish moss
Yellow-throated warbler nest site in Spanish moss hanging from live oak tree

Live oaks

If you’ve got the space for a southern live oak tree (Quercus virginiana), you should definitely have one. With their sweeping branches festooned with Spanish moss and wide-spreading canopy, live oaks are iconically southern and a gorgeous addition to to anyone’s yard. Oak trees are also considered one of the most beneficial plants for wildlife in North America. Keystone trees that are host plants to over 400 butterfly and moth species, oaks also produce acorns that are important food source for a variety of mammals and birds including deer and turkeys. Yellow-throated warblers will enjoy foraging on the hundreds of caterpillar species your live oak harbors as well nesting in the Spanish moss hanging from its sprawling branches.

Yellow-throated warbler with nesting material
Yellow-throated warbler with nesting material

Live oaks are large, evergreen trees that may live over 200 years. They typically grow 40 to 80 feet tall with a canopy often wider than its height. Live oaks prefer the warmer climates of USDA zones 8-11 and should be planted in full sun or part shade. They are adaptable to many soil conditions as long as drainage is good and are drought tolerant once established. Live oaks are picturesque trees that will provide you with lots of shade on blazing hot summer afternoons and your yellow-throated warblers with a canopy to call home year-round.  

Bird feeders

Mealworms

The yellow-throated warblers in my yard will readily eat chipped sunflower seed and suet but they are crazy for mealworms. I will watch them gobble down a dozen mealworms and wonder how that little bird could possibly stuff so many down in one sitting. If there are any worms left, you can be sure they will be back for more until they are left staring at an empty mealworm feeder with obvious longing. Read my article about how to offer mealworms to your wild birds here. 

Suet

Once yellow-throated warblers give up on the hope of more mealworms, they will turn their attention to the suet feeder. I generally offer my birds suet either as a cake in a standard suet cage or a cylindrical block on a hanging feeder. My yellow-throated warblers don’t seem to have an issue eating the suet from either feeder and my impression is that any suet feeder you choose will likely work for them. All of my birds seem to be partial to the SuperSuet available at Wild Birds Unlimited. Its primary ingredients, peanuts, beef fat, mealworms, corn and other nuts, are all ground up into a homogenous block of suet that is seemingly irresistible to most birds. I’d recommend looking for something similar to entice your yellow-throated warblers. 

Yellow-throated warbler eating suet
Yellow-throated warbler at suet feeder

Chipped sunflower seed

Finally, I have only ever observed my yellow-throated warblers eating chipped sunflower seed, and have not seen them attempting to consume any other seed type at my feeders. I offer my chipped sunflower seed in small glass cups, but I imagine other feeder types would also work, especially small platform style feeders. I recommend a feeder filled solely with chipped sunflower seeds if you want to lure yellow-throated warblers. Other wild birds will appreciate the chipped sunflower seeds you offer, including American goldfinches, house finches, pine warblers, ruby-crowned kinglets and northern cardinals. 

Yellow-throated warbler eating sunflower seed
Yellow-throated warbler eating chipped sunflower seed

Other things to offer

Yellow-throated warblers will drink form bird baths. Providing clean water, especially on hot days, will draw birds to your garden. 

I have observed my yellow-throated warblers collecting alpaca fur from nesting material balls I put out in the spring. Simply a sphere made of vines stuffer with cotton and fur, the nesting balls are used readily by Carolina chickadees, tufted titmice as well as the occasional yellow-throated warbler. You can purchase nesting balls or similar items online or at your favorite bird store, or make them yourself. Most of my birds prefer the alpaca fur which can also be purchased online.  

Carolina chickadee with nesting material

Want to learn more?

2 thoughts on “A Striking Little Homebody: How to Attract Yellow-throated Warblers”

  1. Pingback: Birding Basics: The Best Bird Feeder Setup for Beginners - The Southern Wild

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *