Nashville Warbler - ID, Facts, Diet, Habit & More | Birdzilla (2024)

Looking at the range map for theNashville Warbler, you will see that it has two breeding areas that are widely separated, and a different subspecies occupies each region. You might also notice that the Nashville Warbler does not breed anywhere near Nashville, though that was where Alexander Wilson first encountered the species during migration.

Though territorial in the breeding season, Nashville Warblers often join large, mixed-species flocks in the fall and winter, and are reported to frequently forage with Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers in Mexico during the winter months.

Published by the Smithsonian Institution between the 1920s and the 1950s, the Bent life history series of monographs provide an often colorful description of the birds of North America. Arthur Cleveland Bent was the lead author for the series. The Bent series is a great resource and often includes quotes from early American Ornithologists, including Audubon, Townsend, Wilson, Sutton and many others.

Bent Life History for the Nashville Warbler – the common name and sub-species reflect the nomenclature in use at the time the description was written.



Alexander Wilson discovered this species near Nashville, Tenn., and gave it the name Nashville warbler. Baird, Brewer, and Ridgway (1874) say of its early history: “For a long while our older naturalists regarded it as a very rare species, and knew nothing as to its habits or distribution. Wilson, who first met with it in 1811, never found more than three specimens, which he procured near Nashville, Tenn. Audubon only met with three or four, and these he obtained in Louisiana and Kentucky. These and a few others in Titian Peale’s collection, supposed to have been obtained in Pennsylvania, were all he ever saw. Mr. Nuttall at first regarded it as very rare, and as a Southern species.

This is not strange when we stop to consider that this bird is more or less irregular in its occurrence, apparently fluctuating in numbers in different localities and perhaps choosing different routes of migration. Its record here in eastern Massachusetts illustrates this point. Thomas Nuttall never saw the bird while he lived in Cambridge, from 1825 to 1834. Dr. Samuel Cabot, who lived there from 1832 to 1836, told William Brewster (1906) that he was sure that it did not occur regularly in eastern Massachusetts at that time. According to Brewster:

Soon afterwards a few birds began to appear every season. They increased in numbers, gradually but steadily, until they had become so common that in 1842 he obtained ten specimens In the course of a single morning.

In 1868, and for some fifteen years later, I found Nashville Warblers breeding rather numerously in Waltham, Lexington, Arlington and Belmont, usually in dry and somewhat barren tracts sparsely covered with gray birches, oaks or red cedars, or with scattered pitch pines. A few birds continue to occupy certain of these stations, but in all of the towns just mentioned the Nashville Warbler is less common and decidedly less generally distributed in summer now than it was twenty-five or thirty years ago.

Forbush (1929) found it “more common in eastern Massachusetts in the latter quarter of the last century than it is today.” And my own experience has been similar; prior to 1900 we used to consider the Nashville Warbler a common bird on migrations and even found it breeding in Bristol County in 1892; but we have seen very little of it since the turn of the century.

Spring: From its winter home in Mexico and Central America, the eastern Nashville warbler seems to migrate mainly northeastward through Texas to the lower Mississippi Valley and then west of the Alleghenies to New England and northward up the central valleys. Some individuals apparently fly straight across the Gulf of Mexico, but it is very rare in Louisiana, for which Dr. Oberholser (1938) gives only three records. It seems to be very rare, or entirely Unki~own, in any of the southeastern States, east of Louisiana and south of Virginia, except in some of the mountains.

According to Dr. Chapman’s (1907) tables, about 18 days elapse between the average date of the first arrival of the species in Missouri and that of its first appearance in Minnesota, and it seems to require exactly the same time to migrate from West Virginia to New Brunswick.

Dr. Dayton Stoner (1932) says of its migration through the Oneida Lake region, N. Y.:

The Nashville warbler here seems to prefer coppices along the edges of woodland such as young aspen and maple and elm thickets and other small growth that springs up in cut-over and burned-over areas. In such situations I have found it singing persistently in late May and the first few days in June. This warbler and the chestnut-sided are often found together. However, it does not confine its activities to thickets, for It not infrequently visits woodlnnds of tall elm, maple, beech and other deciduous trees, as well as mixed forest and the vegetation in door-yards. The flowering currant is in full bloom at the time this bird reaches the height of its abundance and I have seen it visiting such shrubbery during the first part of May.

In Massachusetts in May, according to Forbush (1929), “among its favorite haunts are the bushy edges of woodlands, whether along roads, railroads or streams, or about ponds, lakes, marshes, swamps or open fields. It may often be found among willows, alders, birches or poplars. Old neglected fields and pastures, with scattered growths of birches and bushes, are favorite feeding grounds, but the bird also visits orchards, gardens and shade trees, even in city parks. It may be found on dry lands where scattered pitch pines grow, and on moist lands with rank shrubbery.”

W. E. Clyde Todd (1940) says of the migration in western Pennsylvania: “The Nashville Warbler appears during the flood tide of the warbler migration in both spring and fall and is sometimes inordinately abundant. * * *

Almost every spring there is a day or two of decided movement, wheii the species is very common and on occasion exceedingly abundant. On May 3, 1901, I witnessed a remarkable flight at Beaver. That morning the woods everywhere were full of Nashville warbiers, to the exclusion of almost all other kinds. I counted a dozen in one tree. They kept mostly in the treetops and were singing very little.”

These warblers are also sometimes abundant in Ohio, for Milton B. Trautman (1940) noted as many as 80 individuals on May 15, 1932, at Buckeye Lake.

Nesting: The nesting haunts of the eastern Nashville warbler are quite varied, and habitats similar to some of those frequented on the spring migration seem to be suitable for breeding grounds. But the nest is always placed on the ground and generally is well hidden. Gerald Thayer wrote to Dr. Chapman (1907):

Birch Warbler would be a good name for this bird as it appears in the Monadnock region where it breeds abundantly. For here it is nowhere so common as in abandoned fields and mountain pastures half smothered by smau gray birches. From the airy upper story of these low and often dense birch copses the Nashvilles sing; and among the club-mosses and ferns, and the hardhacks and other scrubby brushes at their bases and around their borders, the Nashvilles build their nests. But such is merely their most characteristic home. * * ï Dark spruce woods they do not favor, nor big, mixed virgin timber; but even in these places, one is likely to find them wherever there is a little “oasis” of sunlight and smaller deciduous growth. They are fairly common among the scanty spruces, mountain ashes, and white birches of the rocky ridge of Mt. Monadnock, almost to the top: 3,169 feet.

F. H. Kennard records in his notes two nests found near Lancaster, N. H. One was among some dead weeds on a mossy hummock in a pasture; the other was in a swamp, at the base of and under a clump of alders beside a path. Miss Cordelia J. Stanwood (1910), of Ellsworth, Maine, writes:

When a growth of evergreens: pine, fir, spruce and hemlock: is cut, it is succeeded by a growth of hard wood: gray, white and yellow birches, maple, poplar, beech, cherry and larch: and vice versa. As the woodland is cut in strips, there are always these growths in juxtaposition. Though the nest of the Nashville is always placed among the gray birches, the inevitable strip of evergreen woodland is near at hand, and a swale not far away.

The nest of the Nashville is sometimes placed in comparatively low ground (that is, compared with its immediate surroundings), in soft green moss under an apology for a shrub, again in the side of a knou covered with bird wheat (hair-cap) moss, or at other times in an open space in the woodlands under a stump, or tent-like mass of grass, or a clump of gray birch saplings. Around the top is usually woven a rim of coarse, soft, green moss; sometimes dried boulder fern or bracken is added. The side coming against the stump or overhanging moss lacks this foundation. The nest is lined with fine hay, if it abounds in the neighborhood, or pine needles if they are nearer at hand. Sometimes both are used. The red fruit stems of bird wheat moss and rabbit’s hair are often employed. One or two birds have preferred some black, hair-like vegetable fibre for lining matter, one bird, horse hair.

Ora W. Knight (1908) mentions a Maine nest that “was situated on the ground on an open wooded hillside at the foot of and between two small spruce trees, and was well imbedded in the moss. It measures in depth outside one and three-fourths inches, and inside one inch, the diameter outside was three and a quarter. * * Nest building begins soon after the birds have arrived, and presumably the female does most of the work, while the male perches in a near by sapling and sings. * * * ~~ takes from seven to nine days to build the nest, and on its completion an egg is laid each day until the set is completed. The eggs are usually laid between six and ten in the morning.~~ A nest found by Henry Mousley (1918) near Hatley, Quebec, “was located at the foot of a spirea bush on a little mound, well sunk into the surrounding hair-cap moss (Polytriclium commune) and dwarf cornel or bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) of which the mound was carpeted. It was entirely hidden from sight and would never have been found had I not flushed the female from her set of five eggs.”

The only local nest of which we have any record was found by Owen Durfee (MS.) in Rehoboth, Mass., on June 2, 1892. It was only partially concealed among some very low bushes, grass, and other herbage near the foot of a small hill in neglected pasture land; the hill had a scattered growth of oak and beech saplings and had been tramped over by cattle.

Frank A. Pitelka (1940a) found the Nashville warbler breeding in northeastern Illinois in “oak-maple-hickory climax woodland with semi-dense undergrowth, * * * with the stream cutting it and a semi-swampy, sedge-grass area with willow thickets and scattered elms and ashes.” In northern Michigan, he found it “in spruce and cedar bogs and in sandy woods of aspen, birch, and Norway pine.~~ Richard C. Harlow tells me that most of the nests he has found in New Brunswick, about 10, are very frail, but are lined with moose hair. He has found 7 nests in the mountains of Peunsylvania, where the normal lining is deer hair.

Eggs: The first set of eggs for the Nashville warbler seems to be always e.ither 4 or 5; reported sets of 3 are probably incomplete or late sets. The eggs are ovate or short ovate and are only slightly lustrous. They are white or creamy white, speckled with shades of reddish brown, such as “chestnut” and “auburn,” mixed with “light brownish drab.” On some eggs the markings are fairly evenly scattered over the entire surface, but usually they are concentrated and form a wreath at the large end. Occasionally eggs are more boldly marked with spots and small blotches or short scrawls; others are nearly immaculate. The measurements of 50 eggs average 15.7 by 12.1 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 17.2 by 12.7, 16.4 by 13.0, 14.5 by 11.6, and 15.2 by 11.5 millimeters (Harris).

Young: The period of incubation is said to be from 11 to 12 days, and probably the female does most of it, though Mr. Knight (1908) says: “One bird relieves the other on the nest and at times when the eggs are very near the hatching point I have seen the male bring insects to its mate on the nest. Possibly he may feed the female at earlier stages of incubation but I have not seen him do so. Both birds feed the young, giving them at first soft grubs and caterpillars, later on small beetles, flies and similar insects. * * * The young leave about the eleventh day after hatching.”

For a further study of the nesting behavior of the Nashville warbler, the reader is referred, to an excellent paper on the subject by Louise de Kiriline Lawrence (1948).

Plumages: Dr. Dwight (1900) calls the natal down “sepia-brown,” and describes the juvenal plumage of the Nashville warbler as follows:

“Pileum hair-brown, back darker, olive tinged, and rump olivegreen. Below, pale yellowish wood-brown, straw-yellow on abdomen and crissum. Wings and tail olive-brown broadly edged with bright olive-green, the median and greater coverts tipped with pale buffyellow forming two wing bands. Lores and auriculars mouse-gray, the orbital ring pale buff.”

The sexes are alike in juvenal plumage. A postjuvenal molt occurs in July and August that involves the contour plumage and the wing coverts but not the rest of the wings or the tail. This produces a first winter plumage in which young birds become practically indistinguishable from adults in many cases, but the chestnut crown patch is generally smaller and more veiled in the younger male and is often lacking in the young female.

Dr. Dwight (1900) says that the first nuptial plumage is “acquired by a partial prenuptial moult which involves chiefly the crown, sides of head and throat, but not the rest of the body plumage nor the wings and tail. The head becomes plumbeous gray, the edgings only half concealing the rich chestnut of the crown. The orbital ring is white and conspicuous. Wear is marked, bringing the gray of the nape into contrast with the greenish back, later exposing the chestnut of the crown.”

A complete postnuptial molt in July and August produces the fully adult plumage. In fresh fall plumage the head is browner than in spring, the back is grayer, the crown patch is more veiled with gray tips, and the breast is tinged with brownish. The females are paler than the males, with less chestnut in the crown. Adults probably have a partial prenuptial molt similar to that of young birds.

Food: Very little has been published on the food of the Nashville warbler. Knight (1908) says that “the food of the adults consists of beetles, larvae of various insects and the eggs of various insects. In fact they eat almost anything which they can glean in the insect line from the shrubbery and ground.”

Forbush (1929) says: “As the bird ranges from the ground to the tree-tops it takes most of the insects that any warbler will eat, among them flies, young grasshoppers and locusts, leaf-hoppers and many plant-lice, caterpillars both hairless and hairy, among them the gipsy, brown-tail and tent caterpillar, most of which are taken when young and small; also small wood-boring beetles are eaten, and other small insects of many species. The bird appears to be almost wholly insectivorous.”

Behavior: The eastern Nashville warbler is an active, sprightly, restless member of an active family, ranging in its foraging mainly in the lower story of the open woodlands and more often in the low trees and shrubbery around the borders of the forest. When thus engaged it is not particularly shy and often seems quite unconscious of the presence of an observer. On migrations it seems to be sociably inclined and may be seen associated with the mixed flocks of warbiers that are drifting through the tree tops. At these seasons it often visits our orchards and the shrubbery in our gardens, giving us a glimpse of green and gold among the blossoms and opening leaves.

J. W. Preston (1891) describes an interesting manner of foraging:

“One will fly to the foot of a fir tree or other conifer and begin an upward search, hopping energetically from branch to branch until the very highest point is reached, when the bird drops lightly down to the foot of another tree, much as does the Brown Creeper. When an insect is discovered the bird secures it by a sudden bound, and, should the object be not easily dislodged, Helminthophila sustains himself on flapping wings until his purpose is accomplished, which often requires several moments.”

Voice: Gerald Thayer gave Dr. Chapman (1907) a very good description of the songs and calls as follows:

The Nashville has at least two main perch-songs, and a flight-song, all subject to a good deal of variation. It belongs decidedly among the full-voiced Warblers. * Its commoner perch-song consists of a string of six or eight or more, lively, rapid notes, suddenly congested into a pleasant, rolling twitter, lower in key than the first part of the song, and about half as long. In the other perch-song, the notes of what correspond to the rolling twitter are separate and richer, and the second part of the song is longer and more noticeable than the first, whose notes are few and slurred, while the whole is more languidly delivered. The differences are hard to describe intelligibly; but in reality they are pronounced and constant. The flight-song, a fairly common performance in late summer, is sung from the height of five to forty feet above the (usually low) tree-tops. It is ilke the commoner perch-songs, but more hurried, and slightly elaborated, often with a few cMppfstga added, at both ends. Among the Nash yule’s calls a very small, dry chip, and a more metallic, louder chip, somewhat Water-Thrush-like, are noteworthy. It also chipper. like a young Warbler or a Black-throated Green.

Miss Stanwood (1910a) writes:

One common song sounds like ‘tam, ‘tein, ‘tsee, another sweeten, sweet en, ‘tsee, a third, siliup, siliup, siliup, ‘tsee-e-e-e-e-e. At other times the bird sings but part of the song as sweeten, sweet; or sweeten, ‘tsee; or sieeeta, sweeto, ‘tsee; or recombines them differently as sweeten, 8weet en, sweeten, ‘tsee-e-e-e-e-e.

The song is loud, constant, and heard all over the locality, coming principally from the gray birches, hut also from the maples, poplars, and evergreens. The bird sings from the tree-tops, but likewise from the middle branches, and I have seen It singing on the ground and just a few inches above it. My last record of its song in 1908 was made the 17th day of July, the first, May the 14th. Between these dates it sang well-nigh Incessantly.

Knight (1908) says that, while the female is building the nest, “the male bird perches in a nearby sapling and sings leisurely ‘peacze-pea-cie-hit-i-Ait-i-hit.'” Wilson (1832) thought that the “notes very much resembled the breaking of small dry twigs, or the striking of small pebbles of different sizes smartly against each other for six or seven times, and loud enough to be heard at the distance of thirty or forty yards.” Rev. J. H. Langille (1884) writes: “The song of the Nashville Warbler is a composition, the first half of which is as nearly as possible like the thin but penetrating notes of the Blackand-white Creeping Warbler, while the last half is like the twitter of the Chipping Sparrow.” He writes it in syllables as “ke-taee-ketsee-ke-t8ee-chipe-ee-chip-ee-chip-ee-chip.”

The song has been said to resemble that of the chestnut-sided warbler, but the two are really quite distinct; the song of the latter does not end in a trill or in chipperings. It does, however, more closely resemble the song of the Tennessee warbler. Dr. Roberts (1936) heard the two singing at the same time and noted this difference: “The Nashville’s song is an utterance of rather greater volume than that of the Tennessee and differs, also, in the fact that it has a short, rapidly weakening trill or slide, following a rather long and deliberate prelude of four or five notes; while the Tennessee has a brief prelude with a long finishing trill, increasing in loudness and intensity to an abrupt ending.”

Aretas A. Saunders contributes the following study of the song: “The territory song of the Nashville warbler is in two parts, the first a series of 2-note phrases, and the second a series of rapid notes, commonly lower in pitch and just twice as fast as the notes of the first part; pa tipa tipa tipa tipa tititititititit. In 26 of my 29 records the second part of the song is lower than the first. In the other three it is higher. “The pitch of songs varies from G”’to F sharp ””,or five and a half tones. Single songs rarely vary more than one and a half or two tones. They are from 12/s to 2 seconds in length. The quality is rather musical, and some individuals have almost as sweet a tone as the yellow warbler. In my experience field students often confuse the songs of these two species.

“The nesting song may be heard commonly on the breeding grounds. I have several records from the Adirondacks. This song is in three or four parts, each part of three or four notes, and a little lower in pitch than the preceeding part. Two-note phrases are not commonly heard in the nesting song.”

Francis H. Allen’s rendering of the song is not very different from the first one of Mr. Saunders’, though he noted some variation, and mentions in his notes an aberrant song, which “doubled the common song, which in this case had a first part consisting of only a single phrase, thus; chip-ee: (trill) ckip-ee: (trill) .”

Field marks: The gray head, white eye ring, olive-green back, bright yellow under parts, and the absence of wing bars, with no white in the tail, are the distinguishing marks of the eastern Nashville warbler. The Connecticut warbler has a white eye ring but it has a gray throat, whereas the Nashville is bright yellow from chin to abdomen. The chestnut crown patch is not very conspicuous in the male and is less so, or entirely lacking, in the female; the female is duller yellow below and browner above than the male.

Enemies: Like other ground-nesting birds, this warber has the usual four-footed enemies to contend with, but its nest is quite well hidden. Perhaps its worst bird enemy is the cowbird, although Friedmann (1934) listed it as an uncommon victim of this parasite and had only six records of it, the nests containing from one to two eggs of the cowbird.

Fall: As soon as the molting season is over and the young birds are freshly clad in their winter dress the migration begins in Massachusetts. This takes place in August, and the last stragglers may be seen passing through in early October.

In Ohio, according to Mr. Trautman (1940), the first migrants are seen about the first of September, the peak of the migration coming during the latter half of that month when from 10 to 100 could be found in a day, and after the 10th of October only an occasional bird remains. He writes: “As with many other transient warblers the southward migration of the Nashville Warbler covered a greater period of time than did the spring movement, which usually lasted less than 30 days, whereas the fall movement generally extended more than 45 days. * * * In spring the species frequented the upper half of large trees and was more numerous in tall trees of woodlands than it was in smaller groups or rows of tall trees. In fall the species tended to inhabit the middle section of large trees, and it also resorted to the taller bushes and saplings, especially the larger hawthorn trees.” The fall migration route is apparently a reversal of the spring route southwestward into Mexico and Central America where it spends the winter.

Winter: The Nashville warbler is evidently very common in winter in certain parts of Mexico, for Dr. C. William Beebe (1905) says: “At times there were twenty and thirty in sight at once near our camp in the Colima lowlands.” These may have been the western race.

Range: Southern Canada to Guatemala.

Breeding range: The eastern Nashville and the western Nashville (formerly the Calaveras) warblers breed north to southern British Columbia (Tahsis Canal and Beaver Creek, Vancouver Island; Pemberton, Lillooet, and Revelstoke) ; northern Idaho (Clark Fork); northwestern Montana (Fortine); east-central Saskatchewan (Cumberland House); southern Manitoba (Duck Mountain, Lake St. Martin, and Hillside Beach) ; central Ontario (Casummit Lake, Lake Nipigon, and Lake Abitibi); and southern Quebec (Lake Baskatong, Quebec, Kamouraska, Mingan, and Natashquan River). East to southeastern Quebec (Natashquan River and the Magdalen Islands); and Nova Scotia (Baddeck, Halifax, and Barrington). South to Nova Scotia (Barrington); Maine (Ellsworth and Bath); northeastern Massachusetts (Haverhill and Beverly) ; southern Connecticut (Norwich); northern New Jersey (Moe and Beaufort Mountain); northeastern Pennsylvania (Dingman’s Ferry, Mount Riga, and Highland Falls); northern West Virginia (Stony River Dam, Canaan Mountain, and Cranesville Swamp) ; northeastern Ohio (Pymatuming Lake) ; southern Michigan (Ann Arbor) ; northeastern Illinois (Deerfield); southern Wisconsin (Lake Koshkonong); central Minnesota (Onamia and Detroit Lakes); reported to breed in northeastern Nebraska but no specific records; northwestern South Dakota (Cave Hills); northern Idaho (Falcon); northwestern Oregon (Powder River Mountains, probably) ; probably western Nevada (Lake Tahoe) and south-central California (Greenhorn Mountains). West to central and western California (Greenhorn Mountains, Paicines, and Yreka) ; western Oregon (Pinehurst, Gold Hill, Depoe Bay, and Portland); western Washington (Mount Adams, Tacoma, and Blame); and southwestern British Columbia (Friendly Cove and Tahsis Canal).

There are several records of the occurrence of this species in spring migration in southern Saskatchewan (Regina, East End, and Maple Creek); and in fall at Lake Kimawan, Alberta, west of Lesser Slave Lake. These records imply the existence of a breeding range north of any yet discovered.

Winter range: The Nashville warbler and races are found in winter north to central Durango (Chacala); western Nuevo Le6n (Monterrey) and southern Texas (Somerset and Matagorda County). East to southern Texas (Matagorda County, Rio Hondo, and Brownsville); eastern Puebla (Metlatoyuca); western Veracruz (Jalapa); Chiapas (Chicharras); and central Guatemala (Barillos, Panajachel, and San Lucas). South to Guatemala. West to western Guatemala (San Lucas and Sacapulas) ; Oaxaca (Tehuantepec) ; Guerrero (Acapulco); Colima (Manzanillo); and Durango (Durango and Chacla).

The Nashville warbler has been recorded as wintering occasionally in southern Florida, but in view of the extreme rarity of the species in southeastern United States it seems best to consider the record hypothetical until specimens are collected.

Like other species that winter regularly in the Tropics, the Nashville warbler can resist low temperatures as long as food is available. Evidence of this is seen in the daily presence of one in a garden in New York City from December 16, 1918, to January 9, 1919 (perhaps longer). Another was noted almost daily from January 1 to March 1, 1938, at a feeding table in Arlington, Va. The latter bird was caught and brought to the U. S. Biological Survey for confirmation of the identification, and was banded. On January 31, 1890, a specimen was picked up in Swampscott, Massachusetts, that had apparently been killed by a shrike about two weeks before.

The ranges as outlined apply to the entire species which includes two geographic races; the eastern Nashville warbler (V. r. ruficapilla) breeds from eastern Saskatchewan and Nebraska eastward; and the western Nashville warbler (V. r. ridgwayi) breeds west of the Rocky Mountains.

Migration: Some early dates of spring arrival are West Virginia: French Creek, April 23. District of Columbia: Washington, April 20. Pennsylvania: Beaver, April 25. New York: Canandaigua, April 25. Massachusetts: Taunton, April 24. Vermont: Rutland, April 27. Maine: Presque Isle, May 2. Quebec: Kamouraska, May 2. New Brunswick: Scotch Lake, May 8. Mississippi: Rosedale, April 26. Tennessee: Memphis, April 16. Kentucky: Bardstown, April 28. Indiana: Indianapolis, April 24. Ohio: Oberlin, April 19. Michigan: Ann Arbor, April 25. Ontario: Toronto, April 29. Texas: San Antonio, March 27. Arkansas: Delight, April 14. Missouri: St. Louis, April 21. Iowa: Davenport, April 26. Illinois: Chicago, April 25. Wisconsin: Madison, April 25. Minnesota: Red Wing, April 29. Manitoba: Winnipeg, May 2. Arizona: Tucson, April 6. Montana: Missoula, April 25. Idaho-Coeur d’Alene, April 29. California: Buena Park, March 3. Oregon: Prospect April 20. Washington: Tacoma, April 23. British Columbia: Okanagan Landing, April 21.

Late dates of spring departure are: West Virginia: Wheeling, May 24. District of Columbia: Washington, May 20. Pennsylvania: Jeffersonville, May 20. Mississippi: Rosedale, May 6. Tennessee: Nashville, May 19. Kentucky: Bowling Green, May 19. Indiana: Richmond, June 1. Texas: Ingram, May 10. Arkansas-Monticello, May 9. Missouri: Columbia, May 28. lowa: Grinnell, June 2. Illinois: Rockford, May 30. Kansas: Lake Quivira, May 21. Nebraska: Red Cloud, May 24. South Dakota: June 1. Arizona: Otero Canyon, Baboquivari Mountains, April 29. California: Cabezon, May 7.

Late dates of fall departure are: British Columbia: Okanagan Landing, September 13. Washington: Port Chehalis, October 11. California: Los Angeles, October 8. Idaho: Bayview, September 12. Montana: Bozeman, September 12. Arizona: Fort Verde, September 28. Manitoba: Shoal Lake, September 26. North Dakota: Fargo, October 15. South Dakota: Mellette, October 4. Nebraska: Blue Springs, October 1. Kansas: Lawrence, October 8. Minnesota: St. Paul, October 25. Wisconsin: Racine, October 6; Madison, November 1. Iowa: Marshalltown, October 14. Missouri: Columbia, October 19. Arkansas: Winslow, October 14. Texas-Cove, November 15. Ontario: Ottawa, October 7. Michigan: Sault Ste. Marie, October 7. Illinois: Springfield, October 2. Ohio: Toledo, October 29. Kentucky: Lexington, October 16. Tennessee: Memphis, October 3. Mississippi: Deer Island, October 16. Quebec: Hatley, October 18. Maine: Portland, October 13. New Hampshire, Center Ossipee, October 23. Massachusetts: Danvers, October 12. New York: New York, October 17. Pennsylvania: Philadelphia, October 17. District of Columbia: Washington, October 14. West Virginia: Bluefleld, October 19.

Early dates of fall arrival are: California: Los Angeles, August 9. Arizona: Patagonia, August 8. North Dakota: Rice Lake, August 18. South Dakota: Yankton, August 2. Kansas: Lake Quivira, August 31. Iowa: Iowa City, August 18. Missouri: Montier, August 8. Arkansas-Winslow, September 8. Texas: Rockport, September 1. Illinois: Glen Ellyn, August 16. Indiana: Bloomington, August 26. Ohio: Cleveland, August 2. Kentucky: Versailles, August 13. Tennessee: Marysville, September 1. MassachusettsMartha’s Vineyard, August 17. New York: Rhinebeck, August 13. Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh, August 28. District of Columbia: Washington, September 5. West Virginia: French Creek, September 7.

The Nashville warbler is a rare species in the lower Mississippi Valley; there are oniy three records for Louisiana; and it is almost unknown in the Atlantic States south of the Chesapeake Bay.

Casual records: Four specimens have been collected in Greenland: One at Godthaab, about 1835; two at Fiskenaes, October 10, 1823, and August 31, 1840; and one marked “West Greenland,” between 1890 and 1899. The three latter were all immature birds. A specimen was collected in Bermuda on September 16, 1907.

Egg dates: Maine: 27 records, May 8 to August 7; 15 records, May 27 to June 14, indicating the height of the season.

Minnesota: 11 records, May 7 to June 15.

Quebec :32 records,May28 to July 4; 18 records, June19 to 29.

California: 23 records, May 17 to July 30; 12 records, May 21 to June 5 (Harris).


This western form of our well-known eastern Nashville warbler, often called the Calaveras warbler, was discovered by Robert Ridgway in the East Humboldt Mountains, Nov., on September 6, 1868, and given the subspecific name gutturalis. He (1902) describes it as similar to the eastern bird, “but olive-green of rump and upper tailcoverts brighter, more yellowish, yellow of under parts brighter, lower abdomen more extensively whitish, and greater wing-coverts lighter, more yellowish olive-green.” He gives as its range: “Western United States, breeding on high mountains, from the Sierra Nevada (Calaveras Co., California) to British Columbia (Vernon, Nelson, Okanogan district, etc.), eastward to eastern Oregon (Fort Klamath), northern Idaho (Fore Sherman), etc.; southward during migration to extremity of Lower California, and over western and northern Mexico, and southeastward to Texas (San Antonio; Tom Green County; Concho County).” The 1931 A. 0. U. Check-List says that this form winters “in Mexico south to Puebla, Oaxaca, Guerrero, Jalisco, and Colima.”

Dr. Walter K. Fisher wrote to Dr. Chapman (1907) : “The Calaveras Warbler is a characteristic denizen of the chaparral and is found on both slopes of the Sierra Nevadas about as far south as Mt. Whitney. It frequents the belts of the yellow, sugar, and Jeffrey pines, and ranges up into the red fir zone. During the height of the nesting season one may see them flitting about among thickets of manzanita, wild cherry, huckleberry, oak and buck brush, almost always in song; and while the female is assiduously hunting among the dense cover of bushes, the male is often singing in a pine or fir, far above mundane cares. * * * I have observed this Warbler at lower altitudes on t.he west slope among small black oaks, in company with Hermit Warbiers.”

Dr. Wilfred H. Osgood (1896) first saw it in the Sierras at 8,500 feet elevation, but more commonly at 8,700 feet. “At 5,000 feet we found them most common, and from 7,000 to 9,000 feet they gradually disappeared, apparently going as high up as the black oak, in which trees they were generally seen, skipping about in search of insects.”

Grinnell and Storer (1924) say: “The Calaveras Warbler is common during the summer months in the black oaks and maples along each side of the Yosemite Valley and in similar situations elsewere on the western flank of the Sierra Nevada. Among all the warbiers to be seen in the Yosemite Valley during the summer months the present species is the only one which does not forage and nest in the same niche. The Calaveras seeks its food and does its singing well uP in trees, but places its nest immediately upon the ground.”

C. W. and J. H. Bowles (1906) write of its haunts in Washington:

Like the hermit warbler, a bird of the higher altitudes in the mountains of California, the Calaveras ~varbler, on reaching the cooler climate of the northwest, Is to be found as a rule Only on the driest prairies. Here the birds frequent the scattered clumps of young oaks and fir trees that have reached a height of some three or four feet, and which border the large tracts of dense fir timber. It is a noteworthy fact that, while these birds are not often to be found more than a hundred yards outside of the forests, they are seldom or never seen inside of the dividing line where the heavy timber meets the prairie. Also they do not encroach upon the hillside territory of the lutescent warbler, which bird In turn does not appear on the prairies but confines itself to the brush-covered uplands.

Nesting: Dr. Osgood (1896) found three nests of the western Nashville, or Calaveras, warbler near Fyffe in the Sierras; two of these were concealed under dead leaves, one of which was partially concealed by a little sprig of cedar at the foot of a cedar stump, and the other was under a little tuft of “mountain misery”; the third was in a thick patch of “mountain misery” and was “well embedded among the roots of this little shrub, and shaded by its thick leaves.”

In the Yosemite Valley, Grinnell and Storer (1924) found a nest in what must be an unusual situation:

The location was only about 75 feet from the much traveled south road on the Valley floor and at the base of the talus pile of huge boulders. The nest was in the face of one of the larger of these boulders, partly in a diagonal fissure. It was on the north side of the rock and so never received any direct rays of sunlight. The whole face of the boulder was covered densely with yellow-green moss which in places was overlaid by olive-gray lichens. The nest was 43 Inches from the base of the rock and about 60 inches from the top. Another nest was found In a hollow of the ground at the base of an azalea bush, near an old road along the hillside. The creek itself was about 50 feet distant. This nest was 3 inches across the outside and about 2 inches high, the cavity being 114 inches deep. Strips of hark of the incense cedar, plant fibers, and horsehair comprised the building material.

The Bowles brothers (1906) say that the nests are very much like those of the eastern Nashville warbler, as taken by them in Massachusetts. In Washington, “the site chosen is usually at the base of a very young oak, or fir, tho on one occasion we found one built under some blackberry vines at the base of a large fir stub. The nests are sunk well into the ground or moss, and are so well concealed as to defy discovery unless one flushes the bird.”

Eggs: The eggs of the western Nashville warbler are practically indistinguishable from those of the eastern form. The measurements of 40 eggs average 15.3 by 12.2 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 16.6 by 13.2, 14.3 by 11.9, and 16.0 by 11.5 millimeters (Harris).

We have no information on the incubation of the eggs or care of the young. The changes in plumage parallel those of the eastern bird. Very little seems to be known about the exact food of the Calaveras warbler, and its voice seems to be the same as that of the Nashville, but the following accounts of its habits seem worth quoting. Grinnell and Storer (1924) write:

The forage range of this warbler lies chiefly in trees other than conifers. Such trees as the hiack oak and big-leafed maple renew their foliage every spring and the Calaveras Warblers find excellent forage in the insects and larvae which feed upon this tender new leafa*ge during the spring and summer months. Less often these birds may he found in golden oaks and occasionally in Douglas spruces. They usually forage 25 to 40 feet above the ground, keeping within the stratum of new foliage, but they have been seen as low as 10 feet and as high as 70 feet above the earth. When within the foliage their yellow and green coloration makes it difficult to locate them, especially as the birds do not move about as rapidly as some of the other warblers. At times a Calaveras Warbler will poise on rapidly beating wings to capture some insect otherwise out of reach.

Dr. J. C. Merrill (1888) calls them “restless, shy, and very difficult to shoot, and says further, “When alarmed, as they very easily are, the males move rapidly through the trees, often flying a hundred yards or more at once, and were it not that their constant song indicates their movements, it would be impossible to follow them. I have frequently followed one for half an hour or more before I could even catch a glimpse of it, and my pursuit of any particular one was more often unsuccessful than the reverse. * * * I have never found a land bird more wary and difficult to shoot. But as soon as the young leave the nest this extreme shyness disappears, and the parents are readily approached and observed as they busily search for food for their young family.”

Dr. William T. Shaw, who collected a specimen of this warbler in northwestern Washington, says in his notes: “This warbler, a singing male, was noticeably a percher upon high, isolated cedar poles when singing, having three or four favorite ones in his territory, which was a hillside grown to a height of about 15 feet with second-growth deciduous trees, following fire. He sang from a height of from 30 to 40 feet up near the top of these old widely-scattered, fire-blasted, weather-bleached trees, clearly out in the open and isolated from green sheltering foliage beneath him, in such a location as one is accustomed to seeing lazuli buntings perch when they sing.” Dr. Shaw thought the first part of the song suggested that of Macgillivray’s warbler, and the latter notes reminded him of “those heard among the inspirational notes in the song of the lazuli bunting.”

The Bowles brothers (1906) say that, in the spring, the males have at times a very pleasing habit while singing, “that of hovering thru the air for a distance of fifteen or twenty yards. The manner of flying at these times is very slow and closely resembles that of one of the marsh wrens, but the beak is turned upwards and the feathers on the swelling throat separate until it seems almost certain that the bird will sing himself into some serious bodily mishap.”

Nashville Warbler - ID, Facts, Diet, Habit & More | Birdzilla (2024)
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