Pine Warbler

Setophaga pinus

  • Version: 2.0 — Published September 25, 2013
  • Paul G. Rodewald, James H. Withgott, and Kimberly G. Smith

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Figure 1. Distribution of the Pine Warbler.

This species breeds locally from the Great Lakes south and east to the dashed line. Map adapted from Dunn and Garrett 1997.

Breeding male Pine Warbler, Eastford, CT, 14 April.

The aptly named Pine Warbler is a relatively large warbler with a long tail and a robust bill that inhabits pine forest across its range. It is resident throughout the Southeast, but is a migrant in the northern portions of its range, returning earlier than any other warbler in spring. Males sing a high-pitched trill similar to Dark-eyed Junco or Chipping Sparrow. The following is a link to this photographer's website:

Perhaps no bird species is more characteristic of the pine forests of eastern North America than the Pine Warbler. This species rarely occurs in purely deciduous vegetation, except uncommonly during migration and occasionally during winter. The Pine Warbler is a common breeding species and permanent resident in the southeastern United States. It breeds at lower densities as far north as southeastern Canada and the northeastern United States, where it is migratory and among the earliest warblers to arrive in spring and latest to depart in fall.

The Pine Warbler is unusual among the Parulidae (wood-warblers) in that both its breeding and wintering ranges lie almost entirely within the United States and Canada, although resident races are present in the Bahamas and on Hispaniola. Migrants from North America are rarely recorded in the West Indies, and very rarely in northern Mexico and Central America. The annual extent of migration into the West Indies by northern migrants is poorly known.

During winter, the Pine Warbler can be especially abundant in pine forests of the southeastern United States when numbers are increased by migrants from the north. In some areas, up to 50–100 or more individuals can be seen in mixed-species foraging flocks. Agonistic encounters between Pine Warblers and with other bird species frequently occur in these flocks. Male Pine Warblers may sing in all months of the year and commonly within fall and winter flocks, although less frequently on cold winter days.

The Pine Warbler is the only wood-warbler known to regularly consume seeds (often pine seeds or seeds at bird feeders) in any significant amount. However, few data exist on the frequency of this behavior away from feeders and the importance of seeds in the fall or winter diet. This primarily insectivorous species undergoes seasonal physiological changes in the digestive system to allow for digestion of seeds (Levey et al. 1999).

Even though the Pine Warbler is widespread and common in parts of eastern North America, surprisingly little is known about its natural history, and its nesting biology in particular. This is likely due to its propensity to nest high in pine trees, making nests difficult to observe. As a result, it remains one of the more understudied North American wood-warblers. That said, foraging relationships of the Pine Warbler within mixed-species bird flocks in Louisiana (Morse 1967b, Morse 1970b) and with the Yellow-throated Warbler (Setophaga dominica) in Maryland (Ficken et al. 1968, Morse 1974) have been examined in detail. In addition, the ecology and foraging behavior of this species have also been studied in the Bahamas (Emlen 1977, Emlen 1981, Emlen and DeJong 1981) and in the Dominican Republic (Latta and Sondreal 1999).

Recommended Citation

Rodewald, P. G., J. H. Withgott, and K. G. Smith (2013). Pine Warbler (Setophaga pinus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.