HBW15 - Species Accounts: Yellow Warbler (Dendroica petechia)

13. Yellow Warbler

Dendroica petechia

French: Paruline jaune

German: Goldwaldsänger

Spanish: Chipe Amarillo

Other common names: Golden Warbler (nominate group); Mangrove Warbler ("erithachorides group")


Taxonomy. Motacilla petechia Linnaeus, 1766, northern America = Barbados.

Taxonomy complex, and numerous races described. Has hybridized with (probably) D. caerulescens and Protonotaria citrea. Races fall into three main groups: "aestiva group" of migratory N races occupying variety of damp habitats (rubiginosa, banksi, parkesi, amnicola, aestiva, morcomi, brewsteri, sonorana, dugesi); "nominate group" of sedentary, largely mangrove-dwelling taxa (rufivertex, armouri, flavida, gundlachi, flaviceps, eoa, albicollis, chlora, solaris, bartholemica, melanoptera, ruficapilla, babad, nominate, alsiosa, rufopileata, obscura, aurifrons); and sedentary, mainly S, again mangrove-dwelling "erithachorides group" (castaneiceps, rhizophorae, phillipsi, xanthotera, aithocorys, iguanae, aequatorialis, jubaris, peruviana, aureola, oraria, bryanti, erithachorides, chrysendeta, paraguanae, cienagae). The two last-mentioned groups are often regarded as collectively forming a separate species, distinct from N group, on account of sedentary nature and restricted coastal habitat. Further, these two groups have sometimes been treated as representing two separate species, but the races of "erithachorides group" on coast of NW Venezuela have head pattern approaching that of adjoining races of "nominate group"; these anomalies do not occur near any potential zone of contact, and are generally thought to be result of independent evolution of an "erithachorides-type" head pattern within "nominate group" and vice versa. Chestnut-headed Martinique race ruficapilla, usually included in "nominate group", is more similar to members of "erithachorides group" than to "nominate group" (which surrounds it geographically); this has led several recent authors to place ruficapilla within the "erithachorides group". In recent DNA study, isolated Galapagos population (aureola) found to be genetically distinct from both Latin American and North American populations, with mean sequence divergence of 3.7% from former and 6.7% from latter; further research required. Races often intergrade, and some poorly differentiated; review perhaps needed. Distributional limits of N races not always clear; breeding ranges listed below are only approximate. Further proposed races are inedita, described from extreme NE Mexico (Matamoros, in extreme NE Tamaulipas), subsumed in aestiva; hypochlora (from Arizona), synonymized with sonorana; and cruciana, described from Virgin Is (St Croix), treated as synonym of bartholemica. Forty-three subspecies currently recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution.

D. p. parkesi Browning, 1994 - breeds N Alaska and N Canada (E to N Manitoba).

D. p. banksi Browning, 1994 - breeds C Alaska.

D. p. rubiginosa (Pallas, 1811) - breeds coastal S Alaska S through British Columbia (including Vancouver I).

D. p. brewsteri Grinnell, 1903 - breeds W USA (coastal Washington, Oregon, California) and extreme NW Mexico (extreme NW Baja California).

D. p. amnicola Batchelder, 1918 - breeds across C Canada (NW British Columbia E to Newfoundland and New Brunswick).

D. p. morcomi Coale, 1887 - breeds SW Canada (S Yukon and interior British Columbia) S in W USA to NE California and N Texas.

D. p. aestiva (J. F. Gmelin, 1789) - breeds E of Rockies in S Canada (S Alberta E to Nova Scotia) and S in USA to Oklahoma and North Carolina.

D. p. sonorana Brewster, 1888 - breeds S Arizona, SW New Mexico and W Mexico (extreme NE Baja California S through interior to Nayarit and Zacatecas).

D. p. dugesi Coale, 1887 - breeds C plateau of Mexico from San Luis Potosí S to N Guerrero and Puebla.

D. p. rufivertex Ridgway, 1885 - Cozumel I (off Quintana Roo), in SE Mexico.

D. p. flaviceps Chapman, 1892 - Bahama Is.

D. p. gundlachi S. F. Baird, 1865 - extreme SE USA (Florida Keys), Cuba and I of Pines .

D. p. eoa (Gosse, 1847) - Cayman Is and Jamaica.

D. p. albicollis (J. F. Gmelin, 1789) - Hispaniola, including I de la Tortue and I à  Vache.

D. p. solaris Wetmore, 1929 - Gonave and Petite Gonave, off W Hispaniola.

D. p. chlora Browning, 1994 - Cayos Siete Hermanos (Seven Brothers Keys), off N Hispaniola.

D. p. bartholemica Sundevall, 1870 - Puerto Rico, Virgin Is, and N Lesser Antilles (Anguilla S to Montserrat and Antigua).

D. p. melanoptera Lawrence, 1879 - C Lesser Antilles (Guadeloupe S to Dominica).

D. p. ruficapilla (J. F. Gmelin, 1789) - Martinique (SC Lesser Antilles).

D. p. babad Bond, 1927 - St Lucia (SC Lesser Antilles).

D. p. alsiosa J. L. Peters, 1926 - Grenadine Is (S Lesser Antilles).

D. p. petechia (Linnaeus, 1766) - Barbados.

D. p. armouri Greenway, 1933 - Old Providence I (I de Providencia), E of Nicaragua, in SW Caribbean.

D. p. flavida Cory, 1887 - I de San Andrés (St Andrew I), E of Nicaragua, in SW Caribbean.

D. p. rufopileata Ridgway, 1884 - Aruba, Netherlands Antilles (Curaçao, Bonaire), Blanquilla I, Margarita I and Los Testigos Is, off N Venezuela.

D. p. obscura Cory, 1909 - islands of Las Aves, Los Roques and La Orchila, off N Venezuela.

D. p. aurifrons Phelps, Sr & Phelps, Jr, 1950 - coastal NE Venezuela (Anzoátegui and W Sucre) and offshore islands (including La Tortuga, Las Tortuguillas and de Pirítu).

D. p. castaneiceps Ridgway, 1885 - NW Mexico (both coasts of Baja California S of 27º N).

D. p. rhizophorae van Rossem, 1935 - Pacific coast of Mexico in Sonora and Sinaloa.

D. p. phillipsi Browning, 1994 - coast from Sinaloa (Mexico) S to Honduras.

D. p. xanthotera Todd, 1924 - Pacific coast of Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

D. p. aithocorys Olson, 1980 - Pacific coast of Panama from Chiriquí E to Coclé, including Coiba I.

D. p. iguanae Olson, 1980 - Iguana I, off Los Santos (S Panama).

D. p. aequatorialis Sundevall, 1870 - Pacific coast of Panama (Panamá Province) and Pearl Is.

D. p. jubaris Olson, 1980 - Pacific coast from SE Panama (S Darién) S to CW Colombia (Buenaventura).

D. p. peruviana Sundevall, 1870 - Pacific coast from SW Colombia (Nariño) S to NW Peru.

D. p. aureola (Gould, 1839) - I de Coco and Galapagos Is.

D. p. oraria Parkes & Dickerman, 1967 - Caribbean coast of Mexico in S Tamaulipas.

D. p. bryanti Ridgway, 1873 - Caribbean coast from SE Mexico (Campeche) S to S Nicaragua.

D. p. erithachorides S. F. Baird, 1858 - Caribbean coast from Costa Rica S to N Colombia.

D. p. chrysendeta Wetmore, 1946 - Guajira peninsula (NE Colombia and adjacent NW Venezuela).

D. p. paraguanae Phelps Sr & Gilliard, 1941 - Paraguaná Peninsula (Falcón), in NW Venezuela.

D. p. cienagae Zimmer & Phelps, Sr, 1944 - Caribbean coast in Carabobo and Aragua and islands off Falcón, in NW Venezuela.

Descriptive notes. 12.5 cm ("aestiva group"), 13 cm (others); 7.4-16 g. Male nominate race has crown dark rufous-chestnut (sharply defined cap), rest of head bright yellow; upperparts olive-green with yellowish tinge; upperwing and tail blackish-brown, all wing feathers with bright golden-olive edges, rectrices with much yellow on inner webs (especially on outer feathers); throat and underparts bright golden-yellow, breast and flanks with well-defined dark rufous streaks; iris dark; bill blackish; legs greyish-flesh. Female is duller than male, crown, lacks rufous cap, has nape and ear-coverts yellowish-green, underparts unstreaked or only faintly streaked rufous. Juvenile is little known; probably similar to that of "aestiva group", which is pale olive-grey or olive-brown, slightly paler on underparts and lacking yellow tones, with bill and legs pinkish-buff. Races differ to varying degrees, mainly in pattern of head and general brightness, males of "nominate group" (nominate race and first 17 below) having sharply defined orange-rufous to rufous-chestnut cap, also slightly larger size, more rounded wing and larger feet than those of "aestiva group" (next nine races), latter bright yellow on head and underparts and olive-green on upperparts, males of "erithachorides group" (last 16 below) similar to nominate but most having whole hood rufous or rufous-chestnut: rufivertex male is like nominate but rufous crown paler and less sharply defined, heavier streaking below, female crown and upperparts olive-green; flaviceps is like gundlachi, but somewhat yellower on head; gundlachi male is much duller than nominate, darker olive-green above, including crown (or crown sometimes yellow-tinged, occasionally slightly rufous), female dull grey-olive above and pale whitish to yellowish below; eoa resembles previous, but male has slightly more rufous in crown (often extending to ear-coverts) and more obscure streaking below; albicollis is like previous but somewhat duller, paler below, male cap generally slightly darker; chlora like previous but chestnut of crown darker, back and crown darker green, and margins of flight-feathers greener; solaris paler than previous, brighter and yellower above than albicollis; bartholemica has relatively long bill, male with pale orange-rufous in crown (more mottled in Virgin Is), moderate streaking below; melanoptera resembles last, but male crown slightly darker rufous, streaks below narrow, female crown orange-tinged; ruficapilla is distinctive, male with whole of head and throat dark rufous-chestnut; babad male is like nominate, but cap paler (tips of feathers yellow); alsiosa male has forehead golden-yellow (cap extending less far forward); armouri male has yellow crown with faint rufous tinge, streaks below merging to form rufous patch on chest; flavida male is like rufivertex, but cap less extensive, paler and more orange, streaks below heavier; rufopileata resembles nominate, but male crown slightly paler, female paler below; obscura like previous but darker and greener above, with darker ventral streaking; aurifrons slightly paler above than rufopileata, with narrower chestnut streaking; aestiva male is bright yellow on head and underparts, with forecrown and ear-coverts tinged golden-orange, upperparts yellow-tinged olive-green, breast and flanks with well-defined broad rufous streaks, non-breeding male duller, female much duller; brewsteri is like previous, but smaller and a little paler yellow; amnicola is slightly duller and darker, male generally duller yellow below and with streaks somewhat darker and thinner, female greyer above; rubiginosa resembles last but duller still, greyer above and paler below, male crown and nape concolorous with upperparts; morcomi is intermediate between previous and aestiva; banksi greener above than previous, yellower above than amnicola, with chestnut streaking averaging darker and more prominent than both of these races; parkesi much darker and greener above than previous, with chestnut streaking less marked; sonorana is very pale, male pale yellowish-olive above, often with faint rufous streaking, streaks below narrow and faint, female pale greyish-olive above; dugesi is similar to last, but male has pale orange-rufous in crown and heavier streaking below; erithachorides male has rufous-chestnut head, slightly paler on throat, upperparts bright yellowish-olive, underparts bright yellow with heavy rufous streaks, female very dull, entirely olive-grey above (rump more olive), pale eyering, pale olive-grey to whitish wing edgings, pale yellowish to buffy below, breast often with light greyish wash; castaneiceps is similar to previous but smaller, somewhat darker above, male less heavily streaked below; rhizophorae is smaller than previous, has more yellow in tail, male with hood extending less on to throat and with heavier streaking below; phillipsi is similar to last but greener on back and rump, with greener edging to feathers of wings and tail, and greener tinge to yellow of underparts; xanthotera also is similar, but has more yellow in tail, male with slightly more extensive hood and slightly less heavy streaking on richer yellow underside; aithocorys is intermediate between previous race and aequatorialis; iguanae has darker chestnut hood than previous, also darker olive-green upperparts, heavier rufous streaking on breast and flanks; aequatorialis male has hood comparatively pale, light rufous-chestnut, and streaks below broad and heavy; jubaris differs from preceding race in having paler, more tawny-coloured hood, throat streaked yellowish, side of head suffused with yellowish (slightly capped effect), breast and flanks less heavily streaked; peruviana male lacks hood, has only crown chestnut, often some faint streaks of this colour on face and throat; aureola closely resembles previous, but streaking below slightly heavier; bryanti is like erithachorides, but male hood more sharply demarcated, streaking below less pronounced (can be faint); oraria is very like preceding race, but darker, greener and more uniform above, averaging even less streaking below; paraguanae has rufous-chestnut on head restricted to crown, with side of head mottled chestnut and yellow, throat chestnut-streaked yellow; chrysendeta has entire head to upper breast chestnut, pattern on underparts intermediate between those of erithachorides and previous race; cienagae is very like paraguanae, male with streaked throat but more extensive streaking below. Voice. Members of "aestiva group", at least, sing Type 1 and Type 2 songs; "erithachorides group" and "nominate group" may sing only Type 2 songs. Song very variable, but typically a series of 3-5 high-pitched "swee" notes on one pitch followed by short staccato warble, often transcribed as "sweet sweet sweet I'm so sweet". Type 2 songs generally longer and more variable than Type 1 songs. Songs of all three groups broadly similar to one another, with variation throughout ranges. Female has been recorded as singing. Usual call of "aestiva group" a loud, emphatic "tship"; that of two other groups a slightly drier and stronger "chip"; flight call of "aestiva group" a high buzzy "zwee".

Habitat. N populations ("aestiva group") breed in variety of damp, early-successional habitats, including overgrown pastures, hedgerows and suburban parks, especially in wet deciduous thickets and riparian scrub dominated by willows (Salix); generally at low altitudes, but to 2700 m in California and Arizona. In winter in a similar variety of lightly wooded and scrubby habitats, including parks and gardens, as well as more marshy and riparian areas, usually below 500 m, but occasionally to 2600 m in Colombia; also in mangroves, where may overlap with members of "nominate group" and "erithachorides group". Last two groups mostly restricted to coastal mangroves, but "nominate group" occurs locally also in dry scrub, freshwater marshes and riparian growth, and on Dominica and Martinique in montane forest above 300 m; "erithachorides group" also in scrubby habitats on Coco I and Galapagos and on some small islands just off Ecuador coast.

Food and Feeding. Feeds mainly on insects and other arthropods; N populations ("aestiva group"), at least, also eat some berries. Forages mainly by gleaning, but also by hovering and flycatching, at all levels from ground to treetops, mainly at low to middle levels. N populations seen to take insects from frozen surface of ponds in early spring; members of "nominate group" and "erithachorides group" do not perform flycatching sallies so often as do those of "aestiva group", but glean at all levels, including on ground, in mangroves. Seldom joins mixed-species foraging flocks; instead, establishes winter territory, within which it has been recorded as defending individual pasture trees against other parulids, especially D. magnolia, in S Mexico (Chiapas) and Guatemala.

Breeding. Season Apr-Jul in N of range; for "erithachorides group", May-Jun in N populations and Dec-Apr in Galapagos Is; mainly Mar-Jun in S ( nominate group"). Polygyny recorded for "aestiva group". Nest a cup of grasses, shredded bark and other plant fibres, lined with fine grasses and hair, placed 1-3 m (occasionally up to 13 m in N of range) in tree, bush or mangrove; one record of nest placed in a potted plant in Puerto Rico (race bartholemica). Clutch 3-6 eggs but usually 4-5 ("aestiva group"), or 1-3 eggs ("nominate group" and "erithachorides group"), mean of 3 recorded for race bryanti; incubation period 11 days in N, 11-12 days for "nominate group", no information for "erithachorides group"; nestling period 9-12 days in N ("aestiva group"), no information for other two groups but reported as c. 2 weeks for "nominate group". Nests of "aestiva group" commonly parasitized by Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater) and those of "nominate group" by Shiny Cowbird (Molothrus bonariensis): in two of largest studies of former group, 399 (29.5%) of 1350 nests were parasitized in Ontario and 396 (21%) of 1885 in Manitoba; in study of 87 "nominate group" nests in Puerto Rico 65 (75%) parasitized, and study on St Lucia found 47% of nests parasitized; this species frequently responds by building over parasitized clutch to make multi-storey nest (up to six storeys recorded), but more likely to desert if cowbird egg laid early in host's laying sequence (especially before any of its own eggs laid).

Movements. Resident in S. In N "aestiva group", although some populations at least of dugesi are sedentary, members generally short-distance to long-distance migrants, wintering from W & S Mexico (including S Baja California) S throughout Central America and N South America (S to N Bolivia and Amazonian Brazil), a few farther N (in S California, Arizona, Florida and Caribbean, casual in Texas and Louisiana); apparently wide overlap in wintering ranges of the nine races in this group, although E breeding populations tend to winter in E part of non-breeding range and W ones in W part. E populations leave breeding grounds early, from mid-Jul, and move S on broad front through North America, most following Gulf of Mexico coast, rather than crossing it; arrival on non-breeding grounds from mid-Aug in Mexico, late Aug or Sept in Panama and South America; return migration also early, reaching breeding grounds from early Apr in S, late May in far N; some evidence that autumn migration, at least, is more diurnal than that of most other parulids. W populations migrate a few weeks later, in both autumn and spring. Members of this group regular in Bermuda on passage, especially in autumn. The "erithachorides group" been recorded once in California. Vagrant in Britain ("aestiva group").

Status and Conservation. Not globally threatened. Abundant to common or locally common. N populations ("aestiva group") generally common to abundant in E of range, with population densities of up to 60 pairs/10 ha in some areas, but has declined in some parts of SE USA. Some W populations, especially sonorana, have declined significantly in recent years, this due primarily to loss of riparian habitat through overgrazing, modification of watercourses and replacement with non-indigenous tamarisk (Tamarix). Race sonorana was formerly common along Rio Grande in Texas, but no longer breeds there; has likely declined also in adjacent NW Mexico. In SE Arizona, densities increased six-fold 2-3 years after grazing was stopped along riparian corridors where the warblers breed. S breeders ("erithachorides group" and "nominate group") have declined recently in many coastal areas following clearance of mangroves, and race peruviana now only locally common in Ecuador; members of "nominate group" may have suffered local declines where their range has recently been invaded by Brown-headed and Shiny Cowbirds, but as yet no solid evidence of this.

Bibliography. Aldrich (1942), Bankwitz & Thompson (1979), Berger (1955), Bierman & Sealy (1982), Briskie (1995), Browne et al. (2008), Browning (1994), Burgham & Picman (1989), Busby & Sealy (1979), Cilimburg et al. (2002), Clark & Robertson (1981), Cosens & Sealy (1986), Dellasala (1986), Ducharme & Lamontagne (1992), Duncan & Weber (1985), Ficken & Ficken (1965, 1966a), Folkers & Lowther (1985), Gill (1995), Gill & Sealy (1996), Goossen & Sealy (1982), Greenberg & Salgado-Ortiz (1994), Greenberg et al. (1996), Greene (1942), Gunn (1958), Hobson & Sealy (1989a, 1989b, 1989c, 1989d, 1990), Howell & Webb (1995), Keith (1997), Klein & Brown (1994), Knopf & Sedgwick (1992), Lewington et al. (1991), Lichtenstein & Sealy (1998), Lowther et al. (1999), Lozano & Lemon (1996, 1999), Mannan (1979), McLaren & Sealy (2000), McMaster & Sealy (1998), McMaster et al. (1999), Morse (1966b, 1973), Morton (1976), Neudorf & Tarof (1998), Olson (1980), Prather & Cruz (1995), Raffaele (1989), Raffaele et al. (1998), Raveling & Warner (1978), Reid & Sealy (1986), Ridgely & Greenfield (2001b), Rimmer (1988), Rodríguez-Mojica (2004a), Salgado-Ortiz et al. (2008), Sealy (1992, 1995), Spector (1991), Spector et al. (1989), Weary et al. (1994a), Wiedenfeld (1991, 1992), Wiley (1985), Yezerinac & Weatherhead (1997), Yezerinac et al. (1999).