Blue-winged warbler (Vermivora cyanoptera)

Synonyms: Vermivora pinus
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderPasseriformes
FamilyParulidae
GenusVermivora (1)
SizeLength: 11 - 12 cm (2)
Wingspan: 15 cm (3)
Weight8.5 - 9 g (2)

The blue-winged warbler is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

Native to North and Central America, the blue-winged warbler (Vermivora cyanoptera) is a small and brightly coloured songbird (2) (3) (4). The vibrant yellow of the head and underparts contrasts sharply with the blue-grey of the wings, which are also marked with two distinct, white wing bars (2) (5) (6). The plumage along the back and nape is olive green to yellow, and the blue-winged warbler also has a prominent black line through the eye (2) (3) (5). The legs of this species are a slaty black (2).

While there is little difference between the sexes, the female blue-winged warbler is generally slightly duller than the male, with a more olive green crown and greyer eye line (2) (5). The juvenile blue-winged warbler is similar in appearance to the adult, but generally duller in colour (2) (3).

The blue-winged warbler is known to hybridise with the closely related golden-winged warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera) to produce two main hybrids (2) (3). Of these, Brewster’s warbler is more like the golden-winged warbler in appearance, but with the facial markings of the blue-winged warbler, and intermediate markings on the underside. The rarer Lawrence’s warbler has the body plumage of the blue-winged warbler, but the bold facial markings of the yellow-winged warbler (2).

The distinctive song of the blue-winged warbler is described as a buzzy, insect-like ‘Beeee Buzzzz’ (2) (5).

The North American range of the blue-winged warbler expanded greatly with the arrival of early European settlers, as their clearing and farming activities created more suitable habitat for this species. Its range is continuing to expand northward today, with this species currently breeding from Ontario, Minnesota, Wisconsin, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine in the north, with a fragmented distribution stretching to Georgia and Alabama in the south (2).

During the winter, the blue-winged warbler migrates south, wintering from Mexico to Panama in Central America. It is also occasionally found on a number of islands of the Caribbean Sea (2).

The blue-winged warbler prefers early to mid-successional habitats, and, as a result, is commonly found on abandoned farmland or in forest clearings (2) (3). This species will also use forest edges and dense shrubs and thickets (2).

During winter, the blue-winged warbler can be found in semi-humid evergreen and semi-deciduous forest. It also inhabits woodland, scrubland, forest edges and hedgerows (2).

During the breeding season, the blue-winged warbler tends to forage in the upper parts of trees and shrubs, and can often be seen hanging upside down, gleaning insects from the foliage. In dense vegetation it may also forage closer to the ground, and, during the winter, will also probe for food among clusters of dead leaves. The blue-winged warbler feeds on a variety of invertebrates, including caterpillars, crickets, beetles and spiders (2).

The breeding season for the blue-winged warbler begins with the arrival of the males on the breeding ground in April or May. The male will establish and defend a territory, posturing and chasing intruding males. Much time is spent by the male chasing potential mates, and a male usually pairs with only one female. During pair formation, the female blue-winged warbler will give a ‘Tzip’ call (2).

Nest building is carried out by the female blue-winged warbler, and the nest is usually built on or near the ground, and is well concealed using leaf material (2) (5). Between four and five eggs are generally laid, and these are incubated by the female alone, although the male will occasionally bring food to the female. The eggs hatch after 11 to 12 days, and the male provides most of the food to the hatchlings during the first few days, after which both adults feed the chicks equally (2).

A number of animals are known to prey on the eggs and nestlings of the blue-winged warbler, including snakes, birds such as the American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos), and small mammals, including the eastern chipmunk (Tamias striatus). The adult blue-winged warbler may defend the young by mobbing a potential predator or performing ‘distraction’ displays. The reproductive success of the blue-winged warbler may also be reduced by brood parasitism by the brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater) (2).

The blue-winged warbler is known to live for up to seven years (2).

While the blue-winged warbler is not considered to be globally threatened (4), it may be affected by the future loss of breeding habitat due to suburban expansion. This species prefers early successional habitat, so may also be affected by a reduction in the abandonment of farmland and an increase in the succession of scrubland to forest (2).

There are currently no specific conservation measures in place for the blue-winged warbler, though this species may benefit from future research to further understand its ecology (2).

Find out more about the blue-winged warbler:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
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  1. IUCN Red List (February, 2012)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Gill, F.B., Canterbury, R.A. and Confer, J.L. (2001) Blue-winged warbler (Vermivora cyanoptera). ). In: Poole, A. (Ed.) The Birds of North America Online. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca. Available at:
    http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/584
  3. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds - Blue-winged warbler (February, 2012)
    http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Blue-winged_Warbler/id/
  4. BirdLife International - Blue-winged warbler (February, 2012)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/speciesfactsheet.php?id=9085
  5. Eastman, J. (2000) Birds of Field and Shore: Grassland and Shoreline Birds of Eastern North America. Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg.
  6. Dunn, J.L and Alderfer, J. (Eds.) (2006) National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America. National Geographic Books, Margate.