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Adult male
Range Map

Wilson's Warbler

Wilson's Warbler
Cardellina pusilla

Both to common and scientific names of this small warbler recognize the early ornithologist Alexander Wilson who first described this species in 1811. He apparently named the bird after himself. Wilson's Warbler has a very large breeding range, which extends across Canada and Alaska and south through the western United States. It is found in Tennessee in the spring and fall as it travels to and from its wintering grounds in Mexico and Central America. The Wilson's Warbler is most likely to be seen in shrubby thickets and edge habitats from early May to late May in the spring, and in the fall from early September to early October.


This small songbird is olive-green above and yellow below, with a yellow face, and plain dark wings and tail. The male has a black crown-patch, which is greatly reduced or missing entirely in the female. Juvenile birds are similar to the female but duller.

Length: 4.75"
0.27 oz

Voice: Song is a series of 10 to 15 rather unmusical, chatter-like notes, chchchchch, dropping in pitch toward the end.

Similar Species:

Habitat: During migration found in shrubby thickets, woodland edge, and semi-open areas, often near water.

Diet: Insects and occasional berries.

Nesting and reproduction: Wilson's Warbler has not been documented nesting in Tennessee.

Status in Tennessee: Uncommon migrant. Found in spring from early May to late May, and in the fall from early September to early October.

Dynamic map of Wilson's Warbler eBird observations in Tennessee

Fun Facts:

  • The plumage of the Wilson's Warbler becomes brighter as you go from the eastern part of the range to the west. The Pacific coast populations have the brightest yellow foreheads and faces.
  • Wilson's Warbler is easier to observe than many other warblers; it has little fear of humans, and forages on the outsides of leafy branches, often catching flying insects on the wing like a flycatcher.

Best places to see in Tennessee: Weedy and shrubby thickets and in wooded areas with dense underbrush in Middle and East Tennessee during spring migration.

For more information:


Ammon, E. M., and W. M. Gilbert. 1999. Wilson's Warbler (Wilsonia pusilla) The Birds of North America No. 478 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.

Robinson J. C. 1990. An Annotated Checklist of the Birds of Tennessee. Univ. of TN Press, Knoxville, TN.

Sibley, D. A. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. A. A. Knopf, New York, NY.

Consider using the online bird checklist program at eBird to help us understand bird populations and distributions in Tennessee. Click here to see how.