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magnolia warbler

Dendroica magnolia

What do they look like?

The Magnolia Warbler is easily recognizable due to its distinctive yellow and black coloring. Its tail is black at the tip with large white spots which make up a band in the middle. The rump and most of its underparts of the Magnolia Warbler are yellow. It also has black streaks on its breast. Breeding males have a black face as well. Females are similar except that they also have more white on their wings as well as grey on their heads. Their colors tend to be a bit duller, and their patterns less distinct than those of the males. Juvenile Magnolia Warblers also tend to be duller in color, with more grey than black, as well as having some brown or olive coloring on the body. They also may have white bands around their eyes. The specific coloration patterns of the Magnolia Warbler varies greatly depending on the stage of life it is in (breeding or not-breeding, adult, juvenile, or first-year, male or female, etc.)

(Kulba & Reichwein, Date Unknown; Curson, 1994; Alsop, 2001)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • male more colorful
  • Range mass
    6.6 to 12.6 g
    0.23 to 0.44 oz
  • Average mass
    8 g
    0.28 oz
  • Range length
    12 to 13 cm
    4.72 to 5.12 in
  • Average wingspan
    19.68 cm
    7.75 in

Where do they live?

The Magnolia Warbler, during breeding season, is found in central and southern Canada, down into the northern United States, such as in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. The warblers are commonly found in both the Appalachian Mountains as well as in the New England region, approximately as far south as North Carolina. In the winter however, the Magnolia Warbler migrates south, wintering from Mexico to Panama. It is occasionally found in the West Indies, the western and southern United States. (Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, 2001; Curson, 1994; Griscom and Sprunt Jr., 1979)

What kind of habitat do they need?

The name of the Magnolia Warbler is misleading because it is actually rarely found in Magnolia trees. It was named by Alexander Wilson who happened to see one of these birds in a magnolia tree in the South, on its annual migration. The Magnolia Warbler is instead found in damp coniferous forests, which include trees like pine, red maple, spruce, hemlocks, and balsam firs. It tends to dwell in the lower parts of the trees.

(Kaufman, 1996; Alsop, 2001; Harrison, 1984; Griscom & Sprunt, 1979)

How do they reproduce?

The Magnolia Warbler is monogamous. During breeding season, the males grow very competitive and try to impress the females by showing off their distinctive coloring. The males also can get violent with each other at this time, fighting one another with their beaks and wings. Males also tend to sing cheerful tunes to the female they have chosen to mate with. (Alsop, 2001; Bent, 1953)

Magnolia Warblers create their nests in low tree branches or twigs, usually in the most dense areas of the forest. They seem to build rather messy nests, which are put together very carelessly, and are not very stable or secure. They are made up of twigs, weeds, hay, and grass.

The female Magnolia Warbler lays from 3-5 eggs at a time and they lay their eggs once a year. The eggs are white, creamy white, or sometimes greenish white. They are speckled with brown spots or splotches which can range from very dark to very light and very few to very many. The eggs are slightly glossy. They measure, on average, 16.3 by 12.3 millimeters. Incubation lasts 11 to 13 days.

After a chick hatches, its eyes open after about 3 or 4 days. The feathers become well developed after only about 8 or 9 days. This is also about the same time they first leave the nest and begin to find their own food. (Curson, 1994; Kaufman, 1996; Bent, 1953)

  • Breeding season
  • Range eggs per season
    3 to 5
  • Average eggs per season
  • Range time to hatching
    11 to 13 days
  • Range fledging age
    8 to 10 days

Females incubate the eggs and have a more active role in the raising of the young birds, but both the male and the female supply food to the young. Even after they fledge, baby birds remain close to one another and to their parents for about a month afterward. During this time, the parents continue to provide food for the young, however after this time they are on their own. (Bent, 1953; Alsop, 2001)

How long do they live?

The maximum lifespan of the Magnolia Warbler is recorded at 6 years and 11 months.

(Klimkiewicz, 2002)

How do they behave?

The Magnolia Warbler is usually found living by itself or in pairs. It is sometimes territorial in the winter months. It is usually rather easy to watch, because it lives so low in the forest, and also doesn't seem to be very shy, unless it is protectively guarding its young. It is quite active, and energetic, hopping and flying from branch to branch. It does not seem to mind attention as it sings almost constantly and often appears to be showing off its tail feathers, by spreading them or flicking them. Although they usually live alone, they don't seem to show any hostility toward other birds, of other species or their own.

(Alsop, 2001;Bent, 1953;Curson, 1994)

How do they communicate with each other?

What do they eat?

The Magnolia Warbler feeds almost exclusively on insects. It forages for its food in the lower or middle branches of the trees. It picks insects off of tree needles, leaves, and twigs, as well as sometimes from the undersides of plants and under the bark of trees. Sometimes it will also hover to search for food and fly short distances to catch its prey. During bad weather, when insects can be hard to find, the Magnolia Warbler will also feed on berries.

Foods eaten include: beetles, moth caterpillars, leafhoppers, aphids, spiders, worms, flies, plant lice and berries.

(Kaufman, 1996; Curson, 1994; Griscom & Sprunt, 1979)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • terrestrial worms
  • Plant Foods
  • fruit

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

The Magnolia Warbler takes great care to hide its nest deep within the dense growth of the forest, in order to protect its eggs from predators. Cowbirds lay their eggs in Magnolia Warbler nests and the young cowbirds may eject eggs or young of their hosts. Hawks are known egg and young predators (Harrison, 1984; Bent, 1953)

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

The Magnolia Warbler eats insects which are harmful to woodland trees, such as plant lice, leaf hoppers, and beetles. The Magnolia Warbler also occasionally acts as a host species to the parasitic cowbird, which steals eggs and food from the warbler.

(Bent, 1953; Harrison, 1984)

How do they interact with us?

The Magnolia Warbler eats many insects such as moth caterpillars, aphids, and plant lice which can be problems for humans.

(Griscom & Sprunt, 1979; Kaufman, 1996)

  • Ways that people benefit from these animals:
  • controls pest population

Are they endangered?

There have been accounts of both an increase and decline in the number of Magnolia Warblers. However it is important to note that the Magnolia Warbler is quite vulnerable to a loss of habitat. As many eastern spruce and fir forests are declining, due mostly to air pollution, the population of Magnolia Warblers is also likely to decline.

(Alsop, 2001)


Julie Neuser (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.


Alsop III, F. 2001. Birds of North America: Western Region. New York: DK Publishing.

Bent, A. 1953. Life Histories of North American Wood Warblers. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution.

Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, 2001. "Magnolia Warbler" (On-line). Accessed March 20, 2002 at

Curson, J. 1994. New World Warblers. London: Christopher Helm Publishers.

Griscom, L., A. Sprunt Jr.. 1979. The Warblers of America. New York: Doubleday.

Harrison, H. 1984. Wood Warblers' World. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Kaufman, K. 1996. Lives of North American Birds. New York: Houghton Mifflin Co..

Klimkiewicz, M. 2002. "Longevity Records of North American Birds Version 2002.1. Pautuxent Wildlife Research Center. Bird Banding Laboratory. Laurel MD." (On-line). Accessed March 22, 2002. at

Kulba, B., P. Reichwein. "Warblers of Canada" (On-line). Accessed March 20, 2002 at

Tufts, R. 1986. "Birds of Nova Scotia" (On-line). Accessed March 20, 2002 at

University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

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Neuser, J. 2003. "Dendroica magnolia" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed May 26, 2024 at

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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