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Prairie Warbler

Scientific name: Setophaga discolor

This small native songbird sports a yellow throat and belly with olive upper parts. Black streaks on the face and wings complete the picture. If you are wondering why a bird native to the northeast is named for the prairie, it is a mistake and the name stuck! The father of American Ornithology, Alexander Wilson, misnamed this charming small bird,  as it was first found in dry shrubby fields.

Its call is a pleasant series of ascending notes. The excellent video below shows not just the male singing, but the female gathering materials for the nest.

Sadly, this bird’s population has declined by a stunning 66% since 1966. This is a species of special concern. American songbirds have declined in population by almost 50% from 1966 to 2015.  To learn more, the please read this   article in National Geographic Magazine.

Photo credit: Missouri Department of Environmental Conservation

Prairie Warbler


.2 to .3 ounces


4.3 inches

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They eat insects in midair and will also glean for them on leaves and branches.


Habitat loss has been a critical reason for the sharp decline of this beautiful songbird. They need open areas of shrubby fields and meadows (much like the striking indigo bunting). Open glades around the edges of the forest are becoming more and more rare .  If you would like to see both shrub lands and meadows, visit Old Field Preserve and walk along our nature trail.

Life Cycle

These birds arrive from the south in April to breed here. After raising their young, they will return to their winter grounds in September. The nest of the prairie warbler is cup-shaped and found in shrubs or trees less than 10 feet from the ground, making them easy prey for cats and other predators.

Ecosystem Connections

The brown-headed cowbird will lay its eggs in the prairie warbler’s nest. As a result, the cowbird will thrive at the expense of the smaller baby warblers. This is known as nest parasitism.

Human Connections

Cats are a danger to birds, especially those that nest on or near the ground. Please do not allow your cats to go outdoors.

All Warblers...

The coloration of females, immature birds and winter males (non-breeding) are all less vivid with greenish yellow and duller yellow feathers.

Similar Species

The yellow warbler is also found here. See photo below. Not surprisingly, it is more yellow in appearance (no black on the head). Its numbers are greater as its habitat includes woods. Learn More.

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