The orange-crowned warbler, despite its colorful name, is actually a fairly bland and unremarkable bird, and that lack of notable characteristics can make it a challenge even for experienced birders to properly identify. Understanding this bird’s habits and behavior is key for easy and confident identification.
Oreothlypis celata (Formerly Vermivora celata)
- Bill: Black, thin, pointed, very slightly decurved (can be hard to see in the field)
- Size: 5 inches long with 7-8-inch wingspan, slightly long tail
- Colors: Gray, white, black, olive-yellow, yellow, orange, buff
- Markings: Dimorphic species. Males are overall olive-yellow or yellow-green in color with the brightest yellow on the undertail coverts. The head can show a gray wash, and the face is marked with a pale yellow, white or buff eye ring split by a dark eye line that extends from the lores to significantly behind the eye, and a faint pale eyebrow may also be present but can be hard to see. Very faint blurry gray streaks may be noticeable on the breast and flanks. The tail is gray. The orange or orange-brown crown patch is very rarely visible but is a key field mark if the bird is agitated.
Females are similar to males but are generally slightly duller in overall color and may lack the orange crown patch entirely. Juveniles are similar to adults but show more gray, particularly on the head which may give them the appearance of a hood.
Geographically, western orange-crowned warbler populations are typically more yellow in appearance, while eastern populations tend toward more greenish plumage.
Insects, nectar, fruit, sap, berries (See: Insectivorous)
Habitat and Migration:
These neotropical migrants prefer deciduous trees and dense, shrubby habitat, often near water in riparian areas. They can be found in scrub habitats, thickets and along field edges, particularly in overgrown areas.
The summer breeding range for the orange-crowned warbler extends from Alaska and the Yukon through Canada’s boreal forest to Newfoundland and Labrador, and in the western United States these birds are present through the Rocky Mountain region as far south as the northern parts of Arizona and New Mexico. In winter, these birds migrate to Mexico but are one of the northernmost winter warblers, with winter birds as far north as the southeastern United States from North Carolina to central Texas and southern California. A year-round range is occupied in southern California and along the Pacific Coast.
Overall, populations of orange-crowned warblers are greater in the west than in the east.
Male orange-crowned warblers will perch at the tops of high trees to sing, despite the fact that these birds typically stay lower in the vegetation for other activities. The typical song lasts 1-3 seconds and is a very fast, high rattle with some minor pitch variations during its duration.
These are solitary warblers most frequently seen alone, and they have slower, more deliberate movements than many more familiar warbler species. While foraging, they stay low in trees and bushes and glean insects from bark and leaves. The namesake orange crown is rarely visible unless the birds are agitated, frightened or rapidly preening, such as bathing.
These are monogamous birds and solitary nesters. The female parent builds a cup-shaped nest of bark, grass, leaves and fibers lined with fur or feathers, and the nest is positioned in dense shrubbery or grass either on or very near the ground. The eggs are white with fine dark spots, and there will be 3-6 eggs per brood. A mated pair will only raise one brood of eggs during each breeding season.
The incubation period is 12-14 days, with the female parent doing most of the incubating. After hatching, both parents feed the altricial young for approximately 8-10 days until the fledglings are better able to forage on their own.
Attracting Orange-Crowned Warblers:
These warblers will occasionally visit backyards where peanut butter, suet and hummingbird feeders are available, particularly if the birdscaping includes dense brush for adequate shelter. Because these birds prefer to stay hidden in the vegetation they can be difficult to see clearly for identification, but they will respond to pishing in the field.
Orange-crowned warblers are not threatened or endangered, but regional populations can be affected by habitat loss when scrub land is cleared or developed. Overuse of insecticides can also impact these birds by eliminating critical food sources, particularly during the nesting season when insects are essential for proper nestling nutrition.