A medium-sized (4 ½ -5 inches) wood warbler, the male Blue-winged Warbler is most easily identified by its olive-green back, yellow breast, yellow forehead, black eye-stripes, and gray-blue wings with white wing bars. Female Blue-winged Warblers are similar to males, but are somewhat duller overall with an olive-green cast on the head and back. This species occasionally hybridizes with the related Golden-winged Warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera), producing a dominant hybrid form (“Brewster’s Warbler,” which is pale below and olive green above with the Blue-winged Warbler’s black eye-stripes) and, more rarely, a recessive hybrid form (“Lawrence’s Warbler,” which is yellow below and olive-green above with the Golden-winged Warbler’s black facial markings). The Blue-winged Warbler breeds in portions of the eastern United States and southern Canada from Minnesota east to Massachusetts and from Ontario south to northern Alabama. In winter, this species migrates south to southern Mexico and Central America. This species has recently expanded its range northward into areas inhabited by Golden-winged Warblers, perhaps being partially responsible for the latter species’ recent declines. Blue-winged Warblers primarily breed in semi-open woodland habitats, particularly around forest edges, clearings, and places where ecological disturbance (forest fires, for example) has recently occurred. In winter, this species utilizes similar types of habitat in humid tropical forests. Blue-winged Warblers eat a variety of small invertebrates, primarily moths. In appropriate habitat, Blue-winged Warblers may be seen foraging for food on leaves and branches at middle heights in the canopy. Birdwatchers may also listen for this species’ song, a buzzing “beee-bzzz” dropping in pitch at the end. Blue-winged Warblers are primarily active during the day.
occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Breeding
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Breeding
Global Range: BREEDING: eastern Nebraska east across Great Lakes region to New England, south to Arkansas, northern Alabama, northern Georgia, Maryland, and Delaware (AOU 1998). NON-BREEDING: Puebla south through Veracruz, Oaxaca, Yucatan Peninsula, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras, to central Panama (Stiles and Skutch 1989, AOU 1998).
- Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2014. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: Version 6.9. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
Length: 12 cm
Weight: 8 grams
Habitat and Ecology
Comments: BREEDING: Brushy hillsides, second growth, partly open situations with saplings, bogs, woodland edge and clearings, stream edges, overgrown pastures, swamps. Nests close to or on ground, in bushes, weeds, or grasses, or under bushes, or between exposed roots of stump (Terres 1980).
NON-BREEDING: In migration and winter, occurs in brushy areas, scrub, and open woodland (Terres 1980). In the Yucatan, Mexico is a tropical forest specialist (Lynch 1989).
Non-Migrant: No. All populations of this species make significant seasonal migrations.
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).
Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.
Arrives (but uncommon to rare) in Costa Rica early to mid-September, departs by mid- to late April (Stiles and Skutch 1989).
Comments: Eats insects and spiders (Terres 1980). NON-BREEDING: pries open rolled leaves and probes for insect larvae and spiders. Hovers or hangs under leaves to snatch prey (Stiles and Skutch 1989).
Life History and Behavior
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
Clutch size is four-seven (usually five-six). Incubation, by female, lasts about 10-12 days. Young leave nest at 8-11 days.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Vermivora pinus
Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.
See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.
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Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Vermivora pinus
Public Records: 5
Specimens with Barcodes: 6
Species With Barcodes: 1
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N4B - Apparently Secure
Rounded National Status Rank: N5B - Secure
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure
Comments: Frequent host of Brown-headed Cowbird (MOLOTHRUS ATER; Ehrlich et al. 1988).
Restoration Potential: In upland forest areas, rotational harvesting of timber could supply adequate habitat where appropriate, should restoration become an issue. (Askins, unpubl. data).
Preserve Selection and Design Considerations: Preserves should include dense vegetation in the herbaceous and shrub layers up to 1.5 meters in height, and little vegetation above 3 meters. Will only use abandoned fields in which the canopy height does not exceed 7 meters (Ficken and Ficken 1968). Will nest in relatively young clearcuts with low canopy heights, preferably close to powerlines, roads, or other openings, size of opening apparently not being a factor if larger than 1.0 hectare (Askins, unpubl. data). Foliage profiles of nest sites suggest that a more open area, with thicker grass and herb layer and fewer shrubs, are important components of a breeding territory. Brown-headed cowbirds (MOLOTHRUS ATER) are a possible management concern because prefer clearcuts with a large number of snags in similar habitats, but a study of nesting success shows no increase in brood parasitism in some areas (Askins, unpubl. data).
Management Requirements: Highly specialized to early successional habitat. Will quickly disappear as the trees age and the canopy consolidates. A constant supply of newly disturbed habitat is necessary to sustain populations in upland forest sites. Nests successfully in small clearcuts (less than 5 hectares); large expanses of continuous early successional habitat are not necessary (Askins, unpubl. data). Management of feral and domestic cat populations and shrubland habitat across breeding range will help most ground-nesting shrub species in many local areas to recover from decline (Gill et al., in prep).
Management Research Needs: Population density is not a reliable indicator of habitat quality. With several species, unmated first-year males or reproductively unsuccessful pairs may occur in high densities in marginal habitats (Van Horne 1983). More information on breeding success is needed (Askins, unpubl. data).
Biological Research Needs: Interactions and hybridization with golden-winged warblers (VERMIVORA CHRYSOPTERA) across broad geographic areas and habitats merit additional study to understand the causal mechanisms of species replacement. (Gill et al., in prep).
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Stewardship Overview: Found in most of the north-central eastern states; mostly absent from the Gulf Coastal Plain. Nests in overgrown fields or thickets in a variety of open country situations. Listed as significantly rare in North Carolina. North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) data indicate declines in Connecticut of 2.8 percent per year over the last 28 years. Thirteen percent of the total population is found in that state (Rosenberg and Wells 1995), indicating a need for extended monitoring and study. Has been expanding range northward into golden-winged warbler's (VERMIVORA CHRYSOPTERA) range, resulting in hybridization that may negatively impact that species. Threats are habitat loss due to suburban development of oldfields and shrublands, clearing/burning of successional shrublands for pasture/agriculture, succession of shrublands to forest, brood parasitism by brown-headed cowbird (MOLOTHRUS ATER). Preserve design/management plans should incorporate practices that would maintain the required oldfield/shrub component.
Species Impact: Has expanded range over the last century north into the breeding range of golden-winged warbler (VERMIVORA CHRYSOPTERA), typically replacing that species within 50 years (Gill 1980).
The blue-winged warbler (Vermivora cyanoptera) is a fairly common New World warbler, 11.5 cm (4.5 in) long and weighing 8.5 g (0.30 oz). It breeds in eastern North America in southern Ontario and the eastern United States. Its range is extending northwards, where it is replacing the very closely related golden-winged warbler, Vermivora chrysoptera.
The common name blue-winged warbler refers to the bluish-gray color of the wings that contrast with the bright yellow body of the male. The name of the genus Vermivora means "worm-eating". The genus used to include nine other new world warblers but now includes only the golden-winged warbler and Bachman's warbler which is believed to be extinct.
The blue-winged warbler was one of the many species originally described by Linnaeus in his 18th-century work, Systema Naturae, though the scientific name has changed several times. The species epithet Pinus was given by Linnaeus in 1766 but was a mistake as the original description of the species was actually based on illustrations of "pine creepers" drawn by others. The drawings depicted two different species, what we now call a pine warbler and blue-winged warbler. In 2010 the blue-winged warbler's scientific name was changed by the American Ornithologists Union to correct the error. Pine warblers retained the species name Pinus but the species epithet for blue-winged warbler was changed to cyanoptera.
Hybridization with golden-winged warbler
This species forms two distinctive hybrids with golden-winged warbler where their ranges overlap in the Great Lakes and New England area. The more common and genetically dominant Brewster's warbler is gray above and whitish (male) or yellow (female) below. It has a black eye stripe and two white wing bars. The rarer recessive Lawrence's warbler has a male plumage which is green and yellow above and yellow below, with white wing bars and the same face pattern as male golden-winged. The female is gray above and whitish below with two yellow wing bars and the same face pattern as female golden-winged.
The blue-winged warbler is a small warbler at 11.4–12.7 cm (4.5–5.0 in) long, with a wingspan of 17–19.5 cm (6.7–7.7 in). The breeding plumage of the male consists of a bright yellow head, breast and underparts. There is no streaking of the underparts of the bird. It has a narrow black line though the eyes and light blueish gray with two white wing-bars, which are diagnostic field marks.
The female is duller overall with less yellow on the crown. Immatures are olive green with wings similar to the adults.
The song is a series of buzzing notes. The call is a sharp chip.
Distribution and habitat
Blue-winged warblers are migratory New World warblers. They winter in southern Central America and breed from east-central Nebraska in the west to southern Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and southern Ontario in the north to central New York, southern Vermont, southern New Hampshire and New England to the east, south to western South Carolina, northern Georgia, northern Alabama, eastern Tennessee and southern Missouri. It is a very rare vagrant to western Europe, with one bird wandering to Ireland.
The breeding habitat is open scrubby areas.
- BirdLife International (2012). "Vermivora cyanoptera". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
- Linnaeus, Carl (1758). Systema naturae per regna tria naturae, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis. Tomus I. Editio decima, reformata. (in Latin). Holmia: Laurentius Salvius. p. 187.
- Chesser, R. Terry; Banks, Richard C.; Barker, F. Keith; Cicero, Carla; Dunn, Jon L.; Kratter, Andrew W.; Lovette, Irby J.; Rasmussen, Pamela C.; Remsen, J. V.; Rising, James D.; Stotz, Douglas F.; Winker, Kevin (2010). "Fifty-First supplement to the American Ornithologists' Union Check-List of North American Birds" (PDF). The Auk (The American Ornithologists’ Union) 127 (3): 726–744. doi:10.1525/auk.2010.127.3.726.
- Terres, J. K. (1980). The Audubon Society encyclopedia of North American Birds. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. p. 967. ISBN 0-394-46651-9.
- Ehrlich, Paul R.; Dobkin, D and Wheye, D. (1988). The Birders Handbook A Field Guide to the Natural History of North American Birds. New York: Simon & Schuster Inc. p. 500. ISBN 0-671-65989-8.
Names and Taxonomy
Comments: Formerly Vermivora pinus (Linnaeus), but see Olson and Reveal (2009), who showed that the 1766 Linnaean name Certhia pinus is a composite name based on illustrations of birds of two species, the Pine Warbler, now known as Dendroica pinus, and the Blue-winged Warbler, until now Vermivora pinus. They concluded that the name Certhia pinus applies to the Pine Warbler, and that the name Vermivora pinus (Linnaeus) is not available for the Blue-winged Warbler, nor is Sylvia solitaria (Wilson) or any other name. They proposed the new name Vermivora cyanoptera for this species (AOU 2010).