Many birders eagerly look forward to spring and the return of their favorite colorful warblers. If you aren’t looking for warblers until longer days and warmer temperatures arrive, however, you are missing out on visits from winter warblers.
Where Warblers Go in Winter
Most warblers are neotropical migrants, abandoning their northern breeding grounds in late summer and fall and moving south for the winter. They often travel as far as South America, the Caribbean, Central America and Mexico. These birds require rich insect life for their protein-rich diets. They also need good shrubby shelter and abundant trees to stay safe and protected. When winter arrives in northern areas, many trees lose their leaves and insect populations die or go dormant, and there just aren’t enough resources for warblers to survive.
See also: Meet the Birds of Winter
The hardiest warbler species, however, do stay further north. They may be a bit more adaptable and can supplement their diet with seeds or fruit during the winter, or they stay in regions that are more clement, such as the Southeast, Florida, along the Pacific Coast, or in the southwestern parts of the country. These areas rarely see extensive snow and ice, and the warblers that stay through the winter can delight birders who know where to look for them.
See also: A Beginner’s Guide to Birding
There are many different warbler species that can be seen in winter if you know where to look. While their plumage colors may not be as bright when they aren’t wearing their stunning breeding garments, it can still be delightful to see warblers in months you wouldn’t expect them.
These are one of the very hardiest warblers. In winter, “butter butts” can be seen all along the Pacific Coast and throughout the southern United States.
Look for these colorful tropical birds in central and southern Florida in winter. They also stay in central Florida year-round.
These warblers stay in the southeast throughout the winter, from Louisiana to southeastern Virginia. They’re often seen on the ground while wagging their tails.
Cape May Warbler
Some of these small warblers spend winter in southern Florida and throughout the Florida Keys, areas that are perfect for winter warbler watching.
Though not the most colorful warbler, these birds spend winters along the southern fringes of the United States as well as up the Pacific Coast to Oregon.
These feisty warblers stay throughout the southeast year-round and are more frequent guests at seed feeders during the winter months.
The bold plumage of these birds can be spotted in central and southern Florida and southern Texas in the winter months.
Black-throated Green Warbler
The bold markings and yellow face of these warblers can occasionally be spotted in southern Florida in the middle of winter.
While widespread throughout the Southeast and into the central United States and New England in summer, these birds spend winter in the Florida peninsula.
Boldly marked but hard to see because they prefer to stay high in trees, these warblers spend the winter along the California coast to southern Oregon.
These Pacific Coast warblers are hermits, indeed, but are rare guests in winter along the California coast from San Diego to San Francisco.
There’s no mistaking the bright throat of this warbler, and you just might see it in Florida or as far north as southern South Carolina in the winter.
Easy to overlook as they skulk along the ground, these brown warblers spend winters in the Florida peninsula.
Widespread in its boreal breeding range in Canada, these warblers retreat to southern Florida in the winter and are more common along the coast.
These large, boldly colored warblers with their bandit masks can be seen from coastal California, through southern regions, to coastal North Carolina in winter.
There’s nothing like the flash of the American Redstart’s tail, and it can be seen in the southern tip of Florida even during the coldest winter months.
Attracting Winter Warblers
If you’re fortunate enough to live in an area where winter warblers can be seen, there are easy ways to attract them to your yard. Providing good shrubs and a naturalized area can help these shy birds feel more secure and comfortable, and a fresh water source such as a birdbath or fountain will easily attract them with splashing noises and glittering sparkles. While most warblers will not visit seed feeders, they may take a snack of suet or nibble at fruit. Planting seasonal flowers and minimizing pesticide use will ensure there is a strong population of insects to feed hungry warblers year-round.
Whether you travel to see warblers in winter or are lucky to have them come to you, these perky birds are a delight to see at any time of year!