For the birds: Which yellow bird is in your yard?

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Male goldfinch feeding adult female
Photo by Doug Parrott

By Christine Southwick

Do you have a yellow bird in your yard?

During spring migration and often thru summer, if you have friendly habitat, including dripping water, you may have two or more species at the same time.

There are two birds in this area that have black on their heads, the American Goldfinch and the Wilson’s Warbler.

The American Goldfinch is Washington’s State Bird, and the males wear their black almost like a beret — forward, not covering the whole top of the head. During the summer, the male is bright yellow while the female is a paler yellow. They have black wings with two white wing-bars. These birds are nomadic, meaning that they don’t have set migrations, can show up anytime, following their food. They are 100% seed eaters, and will gladly eat weed seeds, and even use the down from thistles in their nests.

Wilson's Warbler

The Wilson’s Warbler, both male and breeding female, wear a full toupee of black. They are bright yellow on their breasts and underneath, olive yellow above, with greenish wings. One thing you will notice is their large black eyes. Warblers migrate into our area in May and stay until late fall, weather permitting.

Orange-crowned Warbler
Photo by Dan Streiffert

Another possible yellow bird is the Orange-crowned Warbler, a hard bird to spot since it loves to hide in the leaves. Water will help bring one into view. The Orange-crowned Warbler is a small bird with a partial eyeline, olive-green above, and brighter yellow below. Both male and female have a brownish crown, with the males having an orange streak in the middle. These crowns are notoriously hard to see.

Yellow Warbler in full song
Photo by Tony Varela

The fourth suspect is the Yellow Warbler. The male is a bright yellow bird, with red streaks on its breast, the female may have pale or no streaks. They migrate from Central America, arrive in May and spend their summers here.

There are other possible birds with yellow:
  • The Common Yellow Throat, but it uses wetlands.
  • The Townsend’s Warbler, often here all year -- it has a strong face pattern.
  • The Western Tanager -- only the yellow-headed female could be confused with other yellow birds.
  • The Evening Grosbeak also has yellow, but its huge beak is not easily confused with warblers. Both the Western Tanager and the Evening Grosbeak are larger than the four most likely suspects

So, what’s in your garden?


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