Prairie Warbler

Setophaga discolor

  • Version: 2.0 — Published June 12, 2014
  • V. Nolan Jr, E. D. Ketterson, and C. A. Buerkle

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Figure 1. Distribution of the Prairie Warbler.

Distribution of the Prairie Warbler in North and Central America and the western Caribbean. This species also winters in the eastern Caribbean.

Breeding male Prairie Warbler; Carden Alvar, ON; 9 June.

Though not actually found on prairies, Prairie Warblers in adult breeding (Definitive Alternate) plumage have a distinctive facial pattern, bright yellow underparts and wingbars, and an olive back that may show chestnut patches or streaks. Breeding males can be identified by the emphasized dark grayish semicircle under the eye, bold neck-spots/ streaking along the flanks, and distinct chestnut back patch. The following is a link to this photographer's website:, Jun 06, 2009; photographer Glenn Bartley

Breeding female Prairie Warbler; Citrus County, FL; 15 June.

Note: Dark spot on side of neck, duller than male and more olive, little or no chestnut in back. The following is a link to this photographer's website:, Jun 15, 2009; photographer Robert Strickland

Throughout most of the eastern United States and in southern Ontario, the Prairie Warbler breeds in shrubby old fields, early-stage regenerating forests, dunes, and other early successional habitats. It spends the winter in the Bahamas, on Caribbean islands, and in southern Florida, where it usually occupies habitats structurally like those of the breeding range. Before European settlement, the species was rare or absent in much of its present breeding range; following deforestation, it became widespread by the mid-twentieth century. Since about 1970, its numbers have declined in parts of the breeding range, as forests have regenerated, and it is now one of the Neotropical migrant species whose status, at least in some regions and physiographic strata, is a matter of concern.

The Prairie Warbler (S. d. discolor) was the subject of a long-term study near Bloomington, Indiana (Nolan 1978), which is the principal source for this life history. Authors referred to in Nolan 1978 ordinarily will not be cited separately in this account.

The most important developments since 1978 are: 1. Concern about the decline in numbers of Neotropical migrant species has led to many accounts of the Prairie Warbler's status and ecology in the winter range. Among these, Stacier's (Staicer 1992) study in Puerto Rico deals also with aspects of behavior and is the most comprehensive. The same concern is responsible for attention to Prairie Warbler populations in the breeding range, notably the study by James et al. (James et al. 1992).

2. Prather and Cruz (Prather and Cruz 1995) have summarized and added to knowledge of the breeding biology of S. d. paludicola.

3. Buerkle (1997, 1999, 2000) investigated the morphological and genetic differentiation of the subspecies discolor and paludicola.

4) Lovette et al.'s (2010) comprehensive study that shook up generic relationships in the wood-warblers and found that all species of Dendroica warbler, as well as W. citrina, were merged into the genus Setophaga.

Recommended Citation

Nolan Jr, V., E. D. Ketterson, and C. A. Buerkle (2014). Prairie Warbler (Setophaga discolor), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.