The Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas) is a common breeding bird across most of North America, from Canada south through Mexico, with a winter range extending from the southern United States to northern South America.. Common Yellowthroats tend to stay low in grassy fields, thickets, and marshes. They breed most abundantly in marshes (especially cattails) and other very wet habitats with low, dense growth. During migration and in winter they are less closely associated with marshes and may occur in any sort of brushy or wooded area.
The diet of the Common Yellowthroat consists mainly of insects and spiders, but includes some seeds.
During courtship, the male displays to the female by flicking his wings and tail, following her closely, and performing a flight display in which he may climb up to 30 m in the air and returns to another low perch, calling and singing.
Common Yellowthroats generally nest less than a meter from the ground. The nest is a bulky open cup built by the female and sometimes has a partial roof of material loosely attached to the rim. There are typically 3 to 5 (sometimes 6) eggs, which are creamy white with brown and black spots. The eggs are incubated (by the female only) for 12 days. The male feeds the female on the nest during incubation. Young are fed by both parents and leave the nest after 8 to 10 days. There are typically two broods per year. The young remain dependent on their parents for longer than most other wood warblers. Common Yellowthroats are very commonly "parasitized" by Brown-headed Cowbirds, which are "brood parasites", laying their eggs in the nests of birds of other species in lieu of building their own.
Migration occurs mainly at night and in many areas is spread over a long period in both spring and fall.
Despite habitat loss that has surely led to local declines, the Common Yellowthroat remains a common and widespread species in the United States and Canada.
(Kaufman 1996; AOU 1998; Dunn and Alderfer 2011)
Geothlypis trichas nest in Alaska and from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean across Canada and the United States. They also nest further south into Mexico. Their wintering range is from southern United States to northern South America and into the West Indies (Terres 1980; Versaware 2000).
Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native ); neotropical (Native )
occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Breeding
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Year-round
Global Range: BREEDS: southeastern Alaska to central Saskatchewan and Newfoundland, south to northern Baja California, southern Mexico, southern Texas, Gulf Coast, and southern Florida. WINTERS: northern California, southwestern U.S., southern Texas, Gulf states and South Carolina south through Mexico and the West Indies (fairly common in Puerto Rico, rare in Virgin Islands, Raffaele 1983), to Panama and rarely into Colombia, Venezuela, Netherlands Antilles.
Common Yellowthroats are wren-like wood warblers with upturned tails. They are 11 to 14 cm in length. The males are olive green above and have a year round black facial mask, bordered above by a blue-white band. They have a white belly with pale yellow chin, throat, breast, and undertail coverts. The beak is black and the legs are a pinkish color. The females look similar to the males but lack the black facial mask. Immature yellowthroats are dull brown with the males' face showing a drab facial mask (Rogers 2000; Terres 1980; Tufts 1986).
Range mass: 7.3 to 13.6 g.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry
Average basal metabolic rate: 0.17622 W.
Length: 13 cm
Weight: 10 grams
Differs from the Kentucky warbler by lacking a yellow line over the eye. Differs from the yellow-breasted chat in smaller size (chat 18 cm long) and lack of a white line extending from the top of the eye to the bill.
Common Yellowthroats occupy non-forested areas low to the ground in briers, damp brushy places, weeds or grasses along country roads or agricultural environments. They are also found in cattails, bulrushes, sedges, and willows by streamsides, swamps, freshwater, and salt-water marshes. They occupy similar types of habitats for both their breeding and wintering locations (Fisher and Acorn 1998; Rogers 2000; Terres 1980).
Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland
Habitat and Ecology
Comments: Marshes (especially cattail), thickets near water, bogs, brushy pastures, old fields, and, locally, undergrowth of humid forest. In migration and winter also in brushy and shrubby areas in both moist and arid regions (AOU 1983).
Nests just above ground or over water, in weeds, reeds, cattails, tules, grass tussocks, brier bushes, and similar situations; often at base of shrub or sapling, sometimes higher in weeds or shrubs up to about 1 m.
Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.
Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some 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.
Winter: withdraws from areas north of the southern U.S. Arrives in Puerto Rico by September-October, departs mostly by the end of April but some remain into June; appears to congregate and pair before migrating north in spring (Raffaele 1983). Migration in Costa Rica extends from mid-October to November and from April to early May (Stiles and Skutch 1989). Present in South America mostly October-April (Ridgely and Tudor 1989).
The yellowthroat is generally an insectivore. It gleans leaves of shrubbery, grasses or weeds for adult and larval insects such as grasshoppers, dragonflies, beetles, butterflies, and spiders. Seeds are sometimes eaten as well (Fisher and Acorn 1998; Terres 1980).
Comments: Eats various small invertebrates obtained among low plants.
Based on studies in:
Canada: Manitoba (Forest)
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
Known prey organisms
Based on studies in:
Canada: Manitoba (Forest)
USA: Illinois (Forest)
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
Density was about 1.5-2.5 territories per ha in southeastern Massachusetts (Morimoto and Wasserman 1991).
Life History and Behavior
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Status: wild: 138 months.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
The female yellowthroat lays her eggs between April and July, and incubates 3-5 eggs for 12 days. The eggs are white or cream-white and are speckled brown, black, or grey at the large end. The cup-shaped, bulky nest made from dead leaves, coarse grass and weed stems, with a lining of fine black rootlets, is located low to the ground, in shrubbery. While only the female incubates the eggs, both the male and female tend the young. The young are altricial and leave the nest 8 days after hatching (Ehrlich et al. 1988; Fisher and Acorn 1998; Terres 1980; Tufts 1986).
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; oviparous
Average time to hatching: 12 days.
Clutch size is 3-6 (usually 4). Usually produces two broods per year. Incubation, by female, lasts 11-13 days. Young are tended by both parents, leave nest at 8-10 days. Polygyny has been observed.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Geothlypis trichas
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.
-- end --
Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Geothlypis trichas
Public Records: 25
Specimens with Barcodes: 29
Species With Barcodes: 1
There has been a general decline in neotropical migrants. However, the yellowthroat is a very common species of wood warbler and the only threats to its status may be the parasitism of cowbirds and the possibility of habitat loss from development of open areas or wetlands.
US Migratory Bird Act: protected
US Federal List: no special status
CITES: no special status
State of Michigan List: no special status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N5B - Secure
Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
The Common Yellowthroat has no known negative impact on humans.
Yellowthroats are a pleasant addition to the variety of sights and sounds of wetlands.
They eat many different species of insects, some of which may pose as pests to humans.
Common yellowthroats are small songbirds that have olive backs, wings and tails, yellow throats and chests, and white bellies. Adult males have black face masks which stretch from the sides of the neck across the eyes and forehead, which are bordered above with white or gray. Females are similar in appearance, but have paler underparts and lack the black mask. Immature birds are similar in appearance to the adult female. First-year males have a faint black mask which darkens completely by spring.
There are 13 races of this bird. These races differ mainly in the males' facial patterns and the brightness of the yellow underparts. The southwestern forms of this bird are the brightest and the yellowest below.
The breeding habitats of these birds are marshes and other wet areas with dense low vegetation, and may also be found in other areas with dense shrub. However, these birds are less common in dry areas. Females appear to prefer males with larger masks. Common yellowthroats nest in low areas of the vegetation, laying 3–5 eggs in a cup-shaped nest. Both parents feed the young.
Northern races are nocturnal migrants, wintering in the southern parts of the breeding range, Central America and the West Indies. Southern forms are largely resident. This species is a very rare vagrant to western Europe.
The common yellowthroat's song is a loud twichety twichety twichety twich. Its call is a soft jip.
Despite a decline in numbers in some areas, which is due to loss of favoured habitat, this species is still very common.
Routes of migration vary based on the season and location of common yellowthroats. During fall migration, from August to October, common yellowthroats in Canada, Western, Eastern, and Central U.S., and regions outside of the United States all have unique migration routes. When migrating in the fall months, all adults and immature individuals tend to arrive at their migration destinations around the same time. Migration differences in timing and routes are also seen during the spring months from early February to late May in these same groups across the United States, Canada, and other areas. However, males generally arrive at their destination site before the females during the spring migration months. During both fall and spring migration, many birds take time to rest during a stopover period. Some individuals stay at their stopover destinations for several weeks or months while others spend only a few days resting before they continue on in their migration patterns to their final destination.
One place of study on common yellowthroat migration that is unique and worth noting is Appledore Island, Maine. Common yellowthroats here typically migrate to this island during the spring months displaying distinct patterns of movement and stopover ecology. Analysis of the common yellowthroat spring migration from April to June was observed by researchers from the Department of Biology at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York to determine patterns of migration and time spent resting on the island before continuing on their journey. Birds returning for more than the second time arrive earlier than birds migrating to the island for their first time. Every year, males tend to arrive on the island an average of five days earlier than females weighing more than the females upon arrival. One possible explanation for the early arrival of males to this island is the ability of males to set up territories before the females arrive. This could give them better access to resources and a higher likelihood of finding a female mate. However, both sexes spend about a week on the island before leaving.
Migration of common yellowthroats in Florida has also been extensively studied. In Florida, the common yellowthroat can be found more often in the southern peninsular region rather than the northern panhandle region closer to the mainland of the United States. Peak migration times of the birds in this region are during the last week of September through the second week of October. Not as much is known about spring migration in Florida, but the patterns appear similar to that of the autumn migration.
Future studies are needed to understand specific migration patterns of common yellowthroats in other parts of the United States.
- BirdLife International (2012). "Geothlypis trichas". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
- "Common Yellowthroat". All About Birds. Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Retrieved 2009-05-17.
- Curson, Jon; Quinn, David; Beadle, David (1994). New World Warblers. London: Christopher Helm. ISBN 0-7136-3932-6.
- Guzy, Michael J.; Ritchison, Gary (1999). "Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas)". In Poole, A. The Birds of North America Online. Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
- Battagli, K.A., Morris, S.R., Pusateri, C.R. 2003. Spring migration and stopover ecology of common yellowthroats on Appledore Island, Maine. The Wilson Bulletin. 115: 64-72.
- Taylor, W.K. 1976. Migration of the common yellowthroat with an emphasis on Florida. Bird-Banding. 47: 319-332.
Names and Taxonomy
Comments: Exhibits relatively deep mtDNA separations between populations in Washington and those in the central and eastern states (Ball and Avise 1992). Populations around Lake Chapala, Jalisco, regarded as a distinct group, CHAPALENSIS (AOU 1998). Sometimes regarded as conspecific with G. ROSTRATA, G. FLAVOVELATA, and G. BELDINGI (AOU 1983). Further study required of species relationships with GEOTHLYPIS (AOU 1998).