Blackburnian Warbler

Blackburnian Warblers are Warblers known for the distinctive colors of the species’ breeding male and their fascinating ecology of the treetop. About 55 percent of this species is seen breeding in the boreal forests of North America.

About Blackburnian Warblers

Belonging to the family of Warblers who have the same ecology and morphology, for the most part, it is only the Blackburnian Warbler that has any right to brag about having the brilliant orange color decorating their plumage. Some observers even confused the male Blackburnian with the small-sized oriole because of the mix of black and orange.

Usually, Blackburnian Warblers are perched high up on trees. Even during migration, they choose the highest tree they can find to rest and find food on. Unless they are interested in announcing their presence with their songs- which tends to be high pitched- one probably won’t notice them.

Sometimes, they might peak out from the very end of a branch, surreptitiously looking for their food. Due to the warbler’s habit of resting in canopies, many researchers have tried and failed to gather reliable information on their nesting and breeding ways.

Today, we will take a look at what little we know about this species. We’ll learn:

  • Blackburnian Warbler color, identification, and range
  • Blackburnian Warbler Habitat and Migration
  • Blackburnian Warbler Nesting and Lifecycle

Blackburnian Warbler Color Pattern

Blackburnian Warblers have lots of colors to show off on their body. Adult male warblers have black and white stripe colors on their wings- an overall white plumage with black patches.

There is also a triangular-shaped dark black patch around their ear, and even the crown is black. Strangely enough, among all these splashes of brown and white, their face and throat is a fiery orange color.

For immature male and female Blackburnian Warblers, the darkness and vividity of black and white colors dull considerably. Instead of the sunlight orange, we get a much shallow yellow on their throat and face, and even the eyebrow is yellow. The triangular patch of black around the ears is barely there in this case.

Description And Identification

Blackburnian Warblers tends to be 13 cm at most. When male Blackburnians are breeding, they show black and white plumage with a throat having a beautiful, attractive orange shade. The wing patch is a deep white. The female Warbler is mostly the same, but the throat is more on the yellow side. The back is a strip of black and white in both cases.

To identify a Blackburnian Warbler, you can either pay special attention to the range of colors on the Warbler or make a note of the way they sing. If the notes gradually rise in pitch with a teet sound and the warbler has an orange patch on their throat, you know for sure it’s a Blackburnian Warbler.

Blackburnian Warbler Song

Blackburnian has a primary and secondary song.
The primary song is a bit of zip-zip sound that rapidly grows higher in pitch until the last note is so high that many human ears cannot register it. They put aside the secondary song for fights. It sounds like they are saying “teesta” and only happens when they try to ward off a male rival.

One can best describe the sound quality of a Blackburnian Warbler’s voice as thin with a shrieky tint to it. As their pitch rises, it just becomes impossible for humans to hear them.

Blackburnian Warbler Size

Blackburnian Warblers are estimated to be about the size of sparrows or even smaller. They beat Northern Parula in size but stop short in front of Yellow-rumped Warbler.

For both male and female Blackburnian Warbler, the measurement rounds-up to about 11 to 12 cm in length. The wingspan is of considerable size, about 20 to 23 cm in most Blacburnian warblers. Usually, they can range from 9 gm to 12 gm.

Typically, Blackburnian Warbler has the body of any regular medium-sized warbler. They are small, on the thin side with pointed bills. Their tail is medium length compared to their body, and the shape is likely to remind you of Yellow Warbler. They have a round body with an otherwise long tail and wings.

The neck and head of the body are hard to tell apart, and if it weren’t for the distinct colors showcasing the body of a Blackburnian Warbler, one would have a hard time differentiating all the body parts.

Blackburnian Warbler Behavior

Adult male Blackburnian Warblers have a habit of roaming around in the greenery. They appear to be quite skittish as they look for food, always wary of predators or any other possible source of danger. While they fly from one branch to another, they catch insects hiding under the leaves.

Their choice of trees is the high branches of deciduous and coniferous vegetation. They do a thorough investigation to get their food- looking at the leaves’ underside, from the top to bottom of branches. They even look at the cluster of dead leaves left behind.

They hover around the leaves until they find their food there. Sometimes, they might catch insects mid-flight.

What Blackburnian Warbler Eat

The most preferred food type for Blackburnian Warblers seems to be insects. They mostly seem to have a soft spot for caterpillars for lunch. Come summer, and you will find them surviving on caterpillars. One can observe a lot of them on budworms of spruce trees.

In general, they are not picky about the kind of insects they eat, despite their tendency to catch larvae or caterpillars. Among the insects, they also like flies, ants, beetles, and plenty of other insects. Even spiders are welcome.

During winter, you might see them grab some berries in between when they can’t find enough insects to sustain them.

Where Blackburnian Warbler Live And Habitat

The breeding ground for Blackburnian Warblers is coniferous forests where trees like white pine, balsam fir, spruce, etc., are present. They also seem to like mixed forests of coniferous and deciduous trees. Often, Hemlock trees are present in this case.

Migratory Blackburnian Warbler often seeks out this sort of habitat. In particular, they seem attached to cemeteries where long coniferous trees are present. In South and Central America, Blackburnian Warbler, amongst their wintering, uses mountain grounds where lots of trees are present.

Range and Migration

Blackburnian Warblers migrate over large distances in particular. They usually spend the winter in South America. Especially the Andes mountain forest seems to get regular visits from them.

In summer, they are back to the coniferous woodlands. Their breeding range is in the south, in the Appalachians, where deciduous forests are present. While migrating, they might choose to rest amongst trees and bushes on the way.

They are nocturnal, preferring to migrate in the night. Their route appears to be mostly limited to the east of the U. S during spring and fall. However, they might venture a little towards the southeast during spring.

Their route appears to be quite simple, moving between the wintering grounds and breeding grounds in a straight line with rare detours. From Costa Rica, they travel to Peru and Venezuela during winter. For breeding grounds, their route is Central south to Northwest South America.

By September, the Warblers leave behind their breeding grounds. Come October, and they leave the US altogether. During the peak of fall migration, we can see Blackburnian Warblers in Central Minnesota.

By this, we mean it is usually late August. Then, during the start of September, you are likely to spot them in Northern West Virginia. A lot of Blackburn Warblers fly over the Gulf of Mexico. Some of them, though, venture into the Caribbean or just skim along the Caribbean coast.

In Spring, they glide singularly towards the North. By late March, they have reached Gulf coats. A month later, they hit the North, and before long, they are in Canada.

Blackburnian Warbler Lifecycle

First, four eggs are born. Sometimes this number can be 3, 5, or 6, but mostly, Blackburnian Warblers seem to give birth in pairs of 4. The eggs can be completely white or have a slightly greenish tint to the otherwise white color. At the large ends of the egg, you might find big, brownish-red patches.

Only the female Blackburnian Warbler takes part in incubation. The incubation period is just under two weeks, 12 to 13 days at most. During the incubation period, the male Blackburnian Warbler gathers food and feeds the female warbler.

Once the incubation period is over, and the babies are here, both the male and female parents take part in gathering food for them. When they turn into young warblers, and it comes time for the babies to leave the nest, the parents also take the opportunity to separate. They both choose to care for half of the brood even after their separation.

When Blackburnian Warblers arrive on the breeding ground, they form a pair with their counterpart from April to May. The Blackburnians are monogamous and only have one partner.

Usually, the male Warbler arrives before female Warblers and starts singing to attract and impress a potential mate. Once they have paired up, nested and laid eggs, and raised their youngins, they part ways.


For Blackburnian Warblers, it is tough for researchers to get any trustworthy information on their nesting behavior. This is because they can’t be observed the way most nesting birds can be, as they tend to make their nests very high, where human eyes can’t access easily.

The male Blackburnian Warblers are quite vigilant about defending their territories. They do so by staying around the nest and singing to ward off any danger from the get-go.

Sometimes, if another intruding male bird comes close, they won’t hesitate to attack them. When in courtship, the male Blackburnian makes a show of singing. The singing is accompanied by masterful gliding while in flight and fluttering of his wings and tail.

The nests are always in dense forest areas. Usually, it would be right on the tip of the branch of a conifer tree. It could go as high as 80’ from the ground up. Similar to how Blackburnian Warblers forge incredibly high above the ground, they seem to follow the same nesting pattern.

It is probably easier for male Blackburnian to bring their mate food if they are already staying in the upper range.  It is assumed that the female Blackburnian Warblers build the nest. It is in the shape of a cup, and the primary material for the nest consists of twigs, fibers, and barks. They build the lining with hair, grass, lichens, and so on.

For nesting, their chosen areas start from the boreal zone of the southeast and cover central-east Saskatchewan and even the Maritimes. Some isolated individuals find themselves in the center of Alberta and the border where Alberta and Saskatchewan. Sometimes, the nesting spills over to the breeding ground like in Western Canada.

Anatomy of a Blackburnian Warbler

Blackburnian Warblers are round, short birds. They have long wings and tails compared to their bodies, but their bodies are relatively small and round. It is hard to tell where the neck and head meet in the case of a Blackburnian. Their beaks are also extremely short and thin, though they seem to do the job of swallowing a caterpillar with ease.


Final Thoughts

If you ever want to see a Blackburnian Warbler, your best bet is all the deciduous and coniferous vegetated areas you can find in the country. However, there is no guarantee you will be able to see one even if you roam around in these forests, as the Blackburnian Warbler tends to stay high up in the sky.

It is for the best that you have a binocular with you. This way, you can stay on the lookout for the Blackburnian from the get-go. Keep your eyes peeled upward, and you just might spot one.

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Bird Watching Binoculars for Identifying Blackburnian Warblers

The most common types of bird watching binoculars for viewing Blackburnian Warblers are 8×21 binoculars and 10×42 binoculars. Bird Watching Academy & Camp sells really nice 8×21 binoculars and 10×42 binoculars. You can view and purchase them here.

Blackburnian Warbler T-shirts

If you love the Blackburnian Warbler you should purchase a Bird Watching Academy & Camp T-shirt. To help support bird conservation we donate 10 percent to bird conservation activities.

Blackburnian Warbler Iron On Patches

Kids, Youth, and Adults love to collect our Bird Watching Academy & Camp iron on patches. Our bird watching patches help you keep track of the birds you have seen an identified. You can also display the patches on our Bird Watching Academy & Camp banners.

The Blackburnian Warbler is a great iron on patch to start your collection with. The patches are durable and can be sewn on or ironed on to just about anything.

Blackburnian Warbler Stickers

Stickers are a great way for you to display your love for bird watching and the Blackburnian Warbler. We sell a monthly subscription sticker pack. The sticker packs have 12 bird stickers. These sticker packs will help your kids learn new birds every month.

Bird Feeders For Blackburnian Warbler

There are many types of bird feeders. Here are our favorite bird feeders for your backyard. We use all of these bird feeders currently. Kids will have a great time watching birds eat at these bird feeders. Using this collection of bird feeders will provide a wide variety and many types of birds.

Best Bird Houses for Blackburnian Warbler

There are many types of bird houses. Building a bird house is always fun but can be frustrating. These 4 bird houses have become our favorites. Getting a bird house for kids to watch birds grow is always fun. We spent a little extra money on these bird houses but they have been worth the higher price and look great.

Blackburnian Warbler Activities for Kids

We thought a fun perler bead pattern would be fun for kids. Please download and print with 100% scale to fit perfectly with perler bead patterns.

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