Male. Note: black mask and bright yellow throat.
  • Male
  • Male
  • Male. Note: black mask and bright yellow throat.
  • Female. Note: pale yellow throat and brownish malar.

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Common Yellowthroat

Geothlypis trichas
Members of this diverse group make up more than half of the bird species worldwide. Most are small. However their brains are relatively large and their learning abilities are greater than those of most other birds. Passerine birds are divided into two suborders, the suboscines and the oscines. Oscines are capable of more complex song, and are considered the true songbirds. In Washington, the tyrant flycatchers are the only suboscines; the remaining 27 families are oscines.
This large group of small, brightly colored songbirds is a favorite of many birdwatchers. Wood-warblers, usually called “warblers” for short by Americans, are strictly a New World family. Most of the North American members of this group are migratory, returning in the winter to the tropics where the family originated. Warblers that nest in the understory tend to have pink legs and feet, while those that inhabit the treetops usually have black legs and feet. North American males are typically brightly colored, many with patches of yellow. Most North American warblers do not molt into a drab fall/winter plumage; the challenge posed to those trying to identify warblers in the fall results from looking at mostly juvenile birds. Their songs are generally dry, unmusical, often complex whistles (“warbles”). Warblers that live high in the treetops generally have higher-pitched songs than those that live in the understory. Warblers eat insects gleaned from foliage or captured in the air. Many supplement their insect diet with some seeds and fruit, primarily in fall and winter, and some also eat nectar. Most are monogamous. The female usually builds the nest and incubates four to five eggs for up to two weeks. Both members of the pair feed the young.
Common summer resident, mostly west.

    General Description

    The Common Yellowthroat male has a distinctive black mask with a white border at the top and a bright yellow throat that extends into its breast. It is yellow below to the undertail coverts, with a solid olive back. The female lacks the facial markings and is buff below, but has the same yellow throat and undertail coverts as the male. The juvenile looks like the female, but without the yellow throat, although the juvenile male shows a faint blackish mask.


    Throughout much of North America, Common Yellowthroats are typical inhabitants of cattail marshes and other wetlands with dense, low growth. In western Washington, they are not as closely tied to cattail marshes as in other parts of their range; in eastern Washington, they are almost always in cattails. They are most common in wet, shrubby, lowland thickets, often frequenting introduced plants such as Scots broom and reed canary grass.


    Like many birds that inhabit dense undergrowth, Common Yellowthroats sometimes cock their tails up. They forage low, mostly gleaning prey from the foliage, but sometimes flying out to catch aerial prey, or forage on the ground. During the breeding season, males often perch on a tall stalk to sing, and flick their wings and tails to attract females.


    Common Yellowthroats eat insects and other small invertebrates. They also occasionally eat seeds.


    Common Yellowthroats are primarily monogamous. Pairs form shortly after the females arrive on the breeding grounds, about a week after the males. The female selects the nest site and builds the nest, which is usually within three feet of the ground in a shrub, or on the ground in a grass or weed tussock. The nest is a loose, bulky cup, sometimes with a partial roof, made of weeds, grass, sedge, and leaves, lined with fine bark, grass, and hair. The female incubates 3 to 5 eggs for 12 days. The male does not incubate the eggs, but brings food to the female while she is on the nest. Both parents feed the young, which leave the nest 8 to 10 days after hatching. The parents continue to feed the young for at least two weeks following fledging. Most pairs raise two broods a season. When the first brood fledges, the female starts the second brood and the male feeds the fledglings.

    Migration Status

    Common Yellowthroat migration is spread out over an extended period in both the spring and fall. Some populations are non-migratory, although Washington's breeders leave the state to winter in Mexico and Central America. They generally migrate at night.

    Conservation Status

    Although the destruction of wetlands has eliminated habitat in many areas, Common Yellowthroats are one of the most widely distributed and common warblers in North America. Populations in the Pacific Northwest have actually increased in recent years, and Breeding Bird Survey data show a significant increase in Washington since 1966. Common Yellowthroats are common hosts for parasitic Brown-headed Cowbirds, but this does not appear to be a major factor in the Northwest.

    When and Where to Find in Washington

    Two subspecies of Common Yellowthroat breed in Washington; the populations are divided by the Cascade Mountains. Common Yellowthroats are common and widespread in lowland wetlands throughout western Washington from early April to late September. They are extremely rare in winter in western Washington. East of the Cascades, they are fairly common, but very local, from early May to the end of August, with some birds lingering through September. In eastern Washington, Common Yellowthroats are typically found in wetlands within forested zones and are less common in the hottest parts of the Columbia Basin.

    Abundance Code DefinitionsAbundance

    C=Common; F=Fairly Common; U=Uncommon; R=Rare; I=Irregular
    Pacific Northwest Coast RCCCCCCU
    Puget TroughRRRFCCCCCRRR
    North Cascades RCCCCCCR
    West Cascades CCCCCCF
    East Cascades RUUUUUR
    Okanogan CCCCU
    Canadian Rockies FFFFU
    Blue Mountains R
    Columbia Plateau FFFFFF

    Washington Range Map

    North American Range Map

    North America map legend

    Federal Endangered Species ListAudubon/American Bird Conservancy Watch ListState Endangered Species ListAudubon Washington Vulnerable Birds List

    View full list of Washington State's Species of Special Concern