Kentucky Warbler

Geothlypis formosa

  • Version: 2.0 — Published October 25, 2013
  • Mary Victoria McDonald

Free Introduction Article Access

The Introduction Article is just the first of 11 articles in each species account that provide life history information for the species. The remaining articles provide detailed information regarding distribution, migration, habitat, diet, sounds, behavior, breeding, current population status and conservation. Each species account also includes a multimedia section that displays the latest photos, audio selections and videos from Macaulay Library’s extensive galleries. Written and continually updated by acknowledged experts on each species, Birds of North America accounts include a comprehensive bibliography of published research on the species.

A subscription is needed to access the remaining account articles and multimedia content. Rates start at $5 USD for 30 days of complete access.

Subscribe Now

Already a subscriber? Sign In
Figure 1. Distribution of the Kentucky Warbler.

This species is a rare and local winter resident in Puerto Rico, Virgin Is., and possibly elsewhere in the Caribbean.

Adult male Kentucky Warbler, Marblehead, MA, 11 May.

Kentucky Warbler is distinctive in all plumages, and there is relatively little age/sex variation. Field marks include the bright yellow underparts and plain olive-brown upperparts, the yellow supercilium that curves behind and below the eye, and the black sides of the face and crown. Adult females have duller black face sides and crown, and immature females can lack black altogether, though all ages/sexes show the same general face pattern. The following is a link to this photographer's website:

The song of the Kentucky Warbler is a familiar sound of rich, moist, deciduous forests in the southeastern United States. A skulking, ground-nesting bird, this warbler is heard more often than seen. In early spring, the male sings incessantly, sometimes partly concealed and almost motionless except for his vibrating throat, in bouts from the same perch for 5–15 minutes, typically at heights of 5–15 meters. Although his song may be confused with that of the Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus), or even the Ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapilla), a flash of yellow and black when he changes perches confirms the Kentucky Warbler.

Numbers of this species appear to be declining, more in some regions than in others. Tropical deforestation may be one factor affecting this species. Data from several key studies (e.g., in Virginia and Arkansas) have provided a fairly good overview of the mating, territorial, and nesting behavior of this species, as well as annual survival of marked birds and early arrival and late departure dates from a long-term study in Virginia (MVM). Breeding-season distributional data, especially from Breeding Bird Atlas projects, notes published in state journals, and unpublished information are also fairly comprehensive.

As with most species, however, little is known about the postbreeding dispersal of juveniles and fall migration. Many studies of Neotropical migrants in Mexico and Central America include migrant or wintering Kentucky Warblers in their data sets, and at least 1 attempt (Mabey 1991) has been made to study a small banded population through 2 seasons in Panama. Much more research is needed on the migration and wintering ecology of the Kentucky Warbler.

Recommended Citation

McDonald, M. V. (2013). Kentucky Warbler (Geothlypis formosa), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.