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How to Identify Yellow-Rumped Warblers

Audrey is a medical transcriptionist, instructor, writer, photographer, and dog trainer who writes on a variety of topics.

This Yellow-Rumped Warbler stopped just long enough to give me a look.

This Yellow-Rumped Warbler stopped just long enough to give me a look.

Birdwatching and Identifying Birds

Warblers can sometimes be mystifying to identify, as their bodies are so small. Most of us just get to see a fleeting glimpse of them and then try to capture it in our mind so we can look it up later in our bird book or on the Internet.

However, on a trip to Fort Rock State Park in Central Oregon, this author was fortunate enough to see a flock of them at work feasting on the last bits of thistle and brush available. With a little patience (and a lot of shots), I was also able to photograph an entire flock of Yellow-Rumped Warblers in action.

It would seem that since there was a flock, it should have been easy to catch them in a photo, but due to their flitting behavior and constant motion, it took a great deal of patience. I finally gave up and just remained where I was. That worked the best!

I should also point out also that, as beautiful as these little fellows were, in the springtime, you would see an even more dazzling array of color. They go from the blander yellow here to bright yellow, charcoal gray, black, and bold white.

Small Birds Are Hard to Identify

This author was fortunate enough to get enough photos to correctly identify the birds. Sometimes, especially with smallish birds, it can be very difficult to pinpoint what they are because they look so similar to other birds.

My husband's guess was that this was a flock of Goldfinches, but even in autumn, the males are still all yellow and don't have the unique yellow markings these warblers do. His next guess was a kind of Pine Siskin or a finch of some kind. I guessed a vireo of some kind or a warbler. Turns out the latter was the right answer.

The warbler is a constant motion kind of bird, poking its head up from time to time to assess the situation then diving back into foraging for food.

The warbler is a constant motion kind of bird, poking its head up from time to time to assess the situation then diving back into foraging for food.

Range of the Yellow-Rumped Warbler

Yellow = summer only Blue = winter only Green = year-round

Yellow = summer only Blue = winter only Green = year-round

Facts About the Yellow-Rumped Warbler

Having never encountered a flock of feasting Yellow-Rumped Warblers before, I was fascinated to learn more about them.

  • They are not endangered, being on the least concern list as their populations remain stable or are on the increase in many areas.
  • They are probably the winner when it comes to going the furthest north—as far as Newfoundland. They can survive off things like bayberries and wax myrtles, unlike many other warblers.
  • Yellow-Rumped Warblers are little guys at only 4-1/2 to 5 inches in length with a wingspan of about 7-1/2 to 9 inches.
  • They are fast-moving birds, flitting from bush to bush quite rapidly, and they seem to be always in motion. I found the pet or sports setting on my camera was the best finally to capture anything.
  • These warblers create a nest horizontally on the branch of a tree that can be anywhere from 4 feet to 50 feet in the air. They like trees like spruce, Douglas fir, hemlock, and white cedar. They will nest in but do not favor maple, birch, or oak trees.
  • The nests can be far out on a main branch or tucked in close in a secure spot.
  • Here in the Northwest and also in the Northeast, they tend to stick to mountainous areas but go where conifers are plentiful.
  • They like to eat insects in summer, but in winter or when migrating, they switch to fruits, including juniper berries. They also eat wild seeds as these birds were doing in Central Oregon, though they will come to feeders for suet, sunflower seeds, and peanut butter.
  • Although they aren't necessarily aggressive by nature, Yellow-Rumped Warblers nevertheless usually don't tolerate other birds joining their flocks. However, this author observed a swallow on the outskirts of this large flock who seemed to be accepted and allowed to dine with them.
  • Palm, Magnolia, and Black-Throated Green Warblers are more accepted within Yellow-Rumped Warbler flocks, whereas Pine and Blackburnian Warblers usually provoke reactions from the little yellow birds.
  • Only Audubon's Warbler and the Myrtle Warbler have the same yellow rump (or saddle patch, as I call it). It is very distinguishable if you see the bird from the back, and it flashes the bright yellow square just below where its wings meet.
  • They migrate or are resident depending on food sources and what's available where.
A quiet moment in the feeding frenzy, the warbler sits on a fence post.

A quiet moment in the feeding frenzy, the warbler sits on a fence post.

Photography Shooting Tips for Small Birds

This author is still learning when it comes to bird photography. Usually because of the movement factor, the shot is over before you get your lens up to shoot it.

Here are a couple of tips on what I've learned:

  • Zoom is essential if you are trying to photograph birds—especially small birds.
  • It's better to stand and wait and let the subject come to you. Sometimes you'll miss the shot altogether, but going after the bird never seems to work.
  • Gauge your trajectory as to where you think the bird may go and shoot there, rather than right at it or by trying to follow it.
  • If you have rapid fire settings, you can follow the bird's movements better than if you don't have that capability—but again, it's usually better to be aimed "at the spot" you've guessed he will go and hit the shutter button rather than trying to get the shot as the bird moves.
  • Sometimes you just get lucky; I recommend repeat firing over and over and dealing with the 800 pictures later!
  • I try to move my body with the motion of the bird to compensate for angles and/or get lower on the ground and try to shoot up at it if it is flying overhead.
  • Any day you get a good bird shot is a wonderful day. It is very hard to photograph moving objects!
  • Be aware of your surroundings when focused on shooting bird photographs. This author stepped off the running board of the SUV because I forgot I was perched there and almost fell into the oxidation pond as I tried to photograph a flying heron.
  • The more you practice, the better you get at it. The photos in this article were shot with my Nikon 5100 with and without zoom, but I finally kept the zoom on. I tried my Coolpix, but it didn't have enough zoom on it nor rapid fire capability
  • Rapid fire is usually either a sports setting or a pet portrait setting. It allows you to shoot more frames than 1 on one focus of the camera.
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If you would like to get a reference book for additional advice, I recommend The Handbook of Bird Photography by wildlife photographers Markus Varesvuo, Jari Peltomaki, and Bence Mate.

The yellow-rumped warbler in fall is pale compared to its bright colors in spring.

The yellow-rumped warbler in fall is pale compared to its bright colors in spring.

The warbler sweeps his wings out like a cape trying to jockey onto the top of the plant.

The warbler sweeps his wings out like a cape trying to jockey onto the top of the plant.

Another sweep of the wings to the right settles the warbler more firmly.

Another sweep of the wings to the right settles the warbler more firmly.

Yellow-Rumped Warblers in Spring vs. Winter

This is one of the most amazing birds in terms of how the plumage changes from spring to fall and winter.

As you can see in the video where the warbler is eating the berries, he or she looks much the same as the ones I photographed. But the other video showing the warbler in his beautiful spring attire is hard to imagine as the same bird species.

There's quite a contrast in their plumage, but these birds are lovely to listen to and see nonetheless any time of year.


Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on December 02, 2012:

Johan--I hear you and I always think though afterwards--OMG what an experience--if ONLY I can share it with someone~ Anything in life worth taking a picture in my opinion takes your breath away and that is a great thing~! Thanks so much for stopping by and loving wildlife and birds!

Johan Smulders from East London, South Africa on December 02, 2012:

Great advice and interresting material. This past week I found a Dark-capped Yellow Warbler at Gubu Dam while doing a bird list for SABAP2 in the Eastern Cape and could identify with your photo challenges.

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on November 05, 2012:

Thanks, Jennifer--I'll be you see a lot of fantastic species where you are. It does fascinate me how many different birds there are and guess I have a long ways to go on seeing "all" of them--impossible~ Thanks for stopping by and the congrats.

Jennifer Stone from the Riverbank, England on November 05, 2012:

Great hub and fantastic photo's! Thanks! Congrats on HOTD award, I love bird watching and get lot's of different kinds of warblers here in SE England, but not this kind! Voted up and all sorts, all the best, Jen

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on November 04, 2012:

Thanks, ComfortB for stopping by--and for the compliments. I had a great bunch of willing participants~

Moonlake--Hope you do get a chance to see them one day--I've seen them before but always as a single! It was exciting.

Snakeslane--You are too kind--and thanks for stopping by as well. Glad you liked as my photos somehow take me away sometimes. I especially love photographing things in their natural state~

Thank you who nunuwho--me too~ I could photograph birds and landscapes...and dogs...and food....and..and...and. I seem to enjoy my camera almost as much as I love writing! Thanks for the stroll by!

whonunuwho from United States on November 04, 2012:

Beautiful photos and great information.Thanks akirchner. I always enjoy out door articles about our feathered friends.

Verlie Burroughs from Canada on November 04, 2012:

Audrey, I love this Hub. The photos are perfect. What a gorgeous little bird. Thank you for the shooting tips, and the excellent background info on the Yellow-Rumped Warbler. Congratulations on Hub of the Day...I cannot think of any more deserving. Voted up and ABIU. Regards, snakeslane

moonlake from America on November 04, 2012:

Congrats on Hub of the Day. I don't think I have ever seen the wabblers around here. Wish we did have them they're very pretty. Voted up.

Comfort Babatola from Bonaire, GA, USA on November 04, 2012:

Beautiful writing. Love the video inserts. It takes great patience to be able to follow these birds and capture their beautiful existence as you did in the images. Thanks for sharing, and congrats on the HOTD award!

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on November 04, 2012:

Thanks SavingKathy for stopping in--I agree and I was so fortunate to get distracted from my photo op to go wander among the weeds and spend an hour with my fine feathered friends!

Kathy Sima from Ontario, Canada on November 04, 2012:

Congratulations on your HOTD for this beautiful and informative hub. Your photos are wonderful. I know these little guys can be difficult to spot, much less capture with your camera. Great job!

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on November 04, 2012:

Thanks, Paradise 7--it was a neat thrill for me to get so up close and personal~

Paradise7 from Upstate New York on November 04, 2012:

Great pics, I must say. These are such charming birds! Congratulations on your find, and on the HOTD.

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on November 04, 2012:

Thanks Nettlemere--as you say--it's always a challenge the older we get to remember what they look like when we get home and get our birding book out! At least with a photo, you have a better chance of calling it correctly. I've never seen so many in one spot and that was quite a thrill.

Nettlemere from Burnley, Lancashire, UK on November 04, 2012:

Well done for getting such good shots of the warbler flock - it is so difficult as I know from experience and as you say quite hard to distinguish between species, so it's nice you have given us a good range of photos to help with this.

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on November 04, 2012:

Thanks, StephSev!

Stephanie Marie Severson from Atlanta, GA on November 04, 2012:

What an interesting hub. Thank you and congrats on hub of the day!

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on November 04, 2012:

Rebecca--isn't that the truth? Something that is NOT on the endangered species list---but I always add "yet" to any statement about wildlife these days!

Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on November 04, 2012:

I will keep an eye out for the yellow rumbled warbler this winter. It is good to know they are not endangered!

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on November 04, 2012:

Thanks so much Victoria---appreciate the visit!

Victoria Lynn from Arkansas, USA on November 04, 2012:

Beautiful hub with all the variety of capsules you used. Your photos are wonderful. Lovely bird. Congrats on hub of the day! Well deserved!

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on November 04, 2012:

Ha Gail--isn't everything in my life an adventure? Truly--but that is the best part--all those new things to learn every day.

Thanks, Peggy--I had a great "cast" who cooperated for me on a hot and dusty day. Birds always amaze me--we were there to photograph Fort Rock and when Bob saw me tramp off to stand in the weeds (completely forgot about my fear of snakes I might add--yikes)--he sighed and went to sit with the curator at the museum. He said he knew it was going to be "a while" before I came back to earth and remembered why I was there....they are amazing creatures!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on November 04, 2012:

Hi Audrey,

Your photos are amazing! Also amazing is how these yellow rumped warblers change colors in the different seasons. I truly enjoyed reading this, seeing your magnificent photos and watching both videos. All the ups except funny + will share. Congrats on the HOTD. Well deserved!

Gail Sobotkin from South Carolina on November 04, 2012:

You are amazing! Thanks for the additional tips. Looking forward to viewing some great shots of the beloved herons. Sounds like, even if the photos don't pan out it'll be an adventure!!!! LOL and Good Luck!!!

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on November 04, 2012:

Thanks so much, Gail~~ Patience is usually not one of my virtues. I am the most impatient person I know--but somehow I have learned to plant myself and wait for them to come to me. You can almost hear me mentally tapping my foot but it has paid off. I set up feeders in our backyard recently and instead of trying to shoot from up on the deck, I sit in the chair motionless and wait for them to come have a bite. It has paid off--and it's teaching me a great thing in the meantime. Good things come to those who wait! My goal is to climb the barbed wire fence and go into the wetlands and lay on the ground waiting for my beloved herons to land~ We'll see--and I hope I don't get a trespassing ticket!

Gail Sobotkin from South Carolina on November 04, 2012:

Congrats on earning HOTD for this informational and beautiful hub about yellow rumped warblers.

I haven't had much luck in photographing small birds which is probably because I don't have much patience. I'll have to try your method of stillness and tons of shots.

Voted up across the board except for funny, pinned and shared.

Sending a Bouquet of Hub Hugs & Love,


Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on November 04, 2012:

Thanks for stopping by SPD~

slidingpatiodoor on November 04, 2012:

Very beautiful bird, It's a very small bird and eat less.

Thay eat many insects have it.

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on October 05, 2012:

BJ--I know right? So exciting~ I am a bit of a bird brain though and so can't resist....I become easily distracted by the flap of wings. Maybe it is the challenge--they are so hard to photograph that I'm drawn to them while Bob is intent on the scenery and the big scapes~ I like those too but animals--well, they just speak to me...animal magnetism. Thanks for stopping in--or buzzing through~

drbj and sherry from south Florida on October 05, 2012:

I never encountered a flock of feasting yellow-rumped warblers before either, so you are very fortunate, Audrey, to get such magnificent photos. Then again I have never encountered a flock of starving yellow-rumped warblers before either. Come to think of it I have never encountered any rumped warblers before of any color. So this is eye-opening. Thank you for the experience.

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on October 04, 2012:

Virginia--I think if I'm not mistaken, they will be leaving and maybe that's why the glutton fest~ I've never seen a FLOCK though--that was pretty awesome so I'm thinking maybe they were on their way "somewhere"--they are busy birds though I'd say--flit, flit, flit~ I am not a patient person but once I realized if I wanted the pictures, I was going to be the one to stop moving--piece of cake~

Virginia Kearney from United States on October 04, 2012:

Great shots! We don't see warblers very often around our area and my husband was jealous I saw 5 on a walk recently. I never got a good enough look to tell what kind. You are so lucky to live where they are year round.

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on October 04, 2012:

Thanks Om---yes, it seems that there is prejudice even among birds--go figure--must have had a bad experience with those blackburnians at one time way in their past~ ha ha--I was supposed to actually be photographing FORT ROCK--but instead got sidetracked and started tracking these little birds....Bob went and patiently sat in the museum talking to the curator while I did my bird thing~

Om Paramapoonya on October 04, 2012:

These photos are so stunning, Audrey. Lovely little birds! I find it funny that they wouldn't let pine and blackburnian warblers in their "territory", but some other kinds of warblers are totally welcomed! Prejudice among warblers, huh? LOL...Great info and photography tips. Rated way up!

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on October 04, 2012:

Aviannocie--thanks so much for stopping by and indeed--I think the fact that they were stocking up for winter made it a "little" easier but I absolutely stood rooted to the spot for an hour~

Leah--I'm pretty sure they are around the Great Lakes as well--I actually forgot to look that part up--where they are in general. Thanks for reminding me--will have to come back and update!

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on October 03, 2012:

Very nice material and great pics. Warblers are tough ones, as you say, IF you can find them.

Leah Lefler from Western New York on October 03, 2012:

What a beautiful bird, Audrey! The photographs are really stunning - I love all the songbirds we get in our neck of the woods, and I'll have to keep an eye out for this little fellow. I'm not sure if they inhabit the Great Lakes area, though - we're not really "mountainous," but we do have a wide varieties of berries they would like!

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