Common Yellowthroat

Geothlypis trichas

Common_Yellowthroat_male_1-24-17.jpg

Photo of a male common yellowthroat
The male common yellowthroat wears a black mask that contrasts strongly against the bright yellow underparts.
Noppadol Paothong
Family

Parulidae (wood-warblers) in the order Passeriformes

Description

A small, chunky, rounded warbler with a short bill. Adult male upperparts are dark olive, with a black mask over the forehead, eyes, and cheeks; above the black mask is a white or grayish border. Underparts are yellow, with varying amounts of white on the belly and some buff on the sides. The female lacks the black mask and has an eye ring and pale eye line; the upperparts are olive brown, including the cheek. The throat usually has a yellow cast. The female of this species is frequently an identification problem. The song is a repeated series of three whistled notes, often described as witchity-witchity-witchity, although it varies considerably. Call is a tcheg, often resembling the call of a marsh wren.

Similar species: The female Wilson’s warbler often resembles the browner female common yellowthroat; note that the olive cheek on the Wilson’s makes its yellow eye ring stand out. The yellow-throated warbler has a confusingly similar name. It has gray (not olive) upperparts, a white eyebrow line, and a white patch on the side of the head, plus black streaks on the sides of the white underparts. The yellow-throated vireo also has a confusingly similar name. Its upperparts are lighter olive, it has yellow “spectacles,” never has a black mask, and, being a vireo, has a thickish, slightly hooked bill.

Key Identifiers

 

Males:

  • Black “robber” mask
  • Bright yellow underparts
  • Dark olive wings and tail.

Females:

  • Plain dull grayish olive
  • Often have hint of yellow on throat and under tail
  • No mask.
Size

Length: 5 inches.

Common_Yellowthroat_male_plant_stem_1-24-17.jpg

Photo of a male common yellowthroat, perched on a dried weed stem
Common Yellowthroat Male
To see common yellowthroats, first learn the distinctive song and call. Then, go to a likely habitat and in spring or summer and listen. Once you hear the voice, scan low shrubs with binoculars — look for the quick, darting movements of this small yellow and olive bird.

Common_Yellowthroat_male_singing_1-24-17.jpg

Photo of a male common yellowthroat, singing
Common Yellowthroat Singing
The song is a repeated series of three whistled notes, often described as "witchity-witchity-witchity," although it varies considerably

Common_Yellowthroat_female_1-24-17.jpg

Photo of a female common yellowthroat
Common Yellowthroat Female
Female common yellowthroats have a whitish eye ring and eye line; the upperparts are olive brown, including the cheek. The throat usually has a yellow cast.

Common_Yellowthroat_female_with insect_1-24-17.jpg

Photo of a female common yellowthroat holding an insect in her bill
Common Yellowthroat Female
Common yellowthroats forage low to the ground for insects, spiders, and small seeds.

Common_Yellowthroat_male_side_1-24-17.jpg

Photo of a male common yellowthroat, viewed from the side
Common Yellowthroat Male
In Missouri, the common yellowthroat is a common summer resident. It is rare in mild winters in cattail marshes and wetland areas.

Common_Yellowthroat_female_on_flowerhead_1-24-17.jpg

Photo of a female common yellowthroat perched on a spent flowerhead
Common Yellowthroat Female
Common yellowthroats, being wetland birds, suffer when wetlands are drained, converted to housing, businesses, or agriculture, or are otherwise degraded.

Common_Yellowthroat_male_back_1-24-17.jpg

Photo of a male common yellowthroat, showing back
Common Yellowthroat Male
The male common yellowthroat is easy to identify, with its black "robber's mask," bright yellow underparts, and dark olive wings and tail.

Common_Yellowthroat_female_head_turned1-24-17.jpg

Photo of a female common yellowthroat
Common Yellowthroat Female
Like the yellow warbler, the common yellowthroat has developed behaviors that help it cope with the brood parasitism of cowbirds.

22_03-2011.jpg

Common Yellowthroat
Common Yellowthroat

pa-06-2014.jpg

Common Yellowthroat
Common Yellowthroat

37-04-2015.jpg

Common Yellowthroat
Common Yellowthroat
Habitat and conservation

Look for common yellowthroats amid low, thick vegetation in moist, open areas such as marshes, wet prairies, moist grasslands, and similar, sometimes dryer, habitats with low tangles and thickets. To see this species, first learn the distinctive song and call. Then, go to a likely habitat and in spring or summer and listen. Once you hear the voice, scan low shrubs with binoculars — look for the quick, darting movements of this small yellow and olive bird.

Foods

Forages low to the ground for insects, spiders, and small seeds.

Distribution in Missouri

Statewide.

Status

Common summer resident. Rare in mild winters in cattail marshes and wetland areas.

Life cycle

The female builds a bulky cup nest out of grasses and other materials in a low shrub amid thickets of grasses, sedges, cattails, and other plants. A clutch comprises 1–6 eggs, which are incubated for 12 days. The young are able to leave the nest 12 days after hatching. Males devote themselves to a single mate, vigorously defending their territory, while females sometimes secretly mate with more than one male. There are 1 or 2 broods a year. Yellowthroats are present in Missouri in mid-April through mid-October. They breed across the United States and far into Canada, and they overwinter in Central America, Mexico, the Caribbean, and the southern fringes of our nation.

Human connections

Common yellowthroats, being wetland birds, suffer when wetlands are drained, converted to housing, businesses, or agriculture, or are otherwise degraded. Also, warblers are insectivores, so pesticides damage their populations. When humans work together to protect wetlands, they protect water quality and many species — including this one.

Ecosystem connections

Birds that nest low to the ground are especially vulnerable to a host of predators eager to eat the eggs and young. Like the yellow warbler, the common yellowthroat has developed behaviors that help it cope with the brood parasitism of brown-headed cowbirds. A yellowthroat is usually able to detect when a cowbird has laid an egg in its nest, so it either abandons the parasitized nest or else, like yellow warblers, builds a new nest (or nests, if necessary) on top of the old one.