Orange-crowned Warbler

"Thicket Haunter"

Orange-crowned Warbler by Luke Seitz.
Orange-crowned Warbler by Luke Seitz.

At a Glance

  • Scientific Name: Leiothlypis celata
  • Population: 82 million
  • Trend:  Decreasing
  • Habitat: Breeds in thickets, brushy woods, forest edge, and chaparral; winters in many open, tangled habitats, including gardens.

About the Orange-crowned Warbler

In many ways, the understated Orange-crowned Warbler is an odd bird among the varied wood-warbler family. One of the more widespread and plentiful species in this group, this bird occupies low, densely vegetated habitats, not tall trees. It is the latest warbler to migrate in fall, and most winter in the southern U.S. and Mexico, farther north than most Neotropical migrants.

Unlike the flashy American Redstart, Hooded Warbler, and Yellow Warbler, the Orange-crowned Warbler is the most understated of warblers. Even its namesake orangish crown patch is rarely seen. Ranging from olive-green to dull olive with grayish tones, it even lacks crisp streaks or wing bars. A common nester across much of the boreal forest belt and the U.S. West, and commonly seen wintering in the Southeast, this bird is a novelty to birders in northeastern and mid-Atlantic states, where it is an uncommon migrant and scarce to rare winter visitor.

On-Target Nomenclature

This somber-toned, rather retiring songbird may not have its most important asset highlighted in its common name (at least as far as birders are concerned), but its scientific name is quite telling. It shares the genus Leiothlypis, meaning "plain warbler," with five other species (most of them with rather plain coloration), but gets the species name celata, meaning "hidden." Anyone who's wanted a first good look at, or photograph of, this "hidden, plain warbler" can certainly agree with the descriptors chosen here. The Orange-crowned Warbler usually forages very actively, but low, often concealed within dense cover. The observer is often afforded snatches of detail seconds at a time, important field marks being the bird's yellowish or grayish "eye arcs" (broken eye ring); its blurry streaks below; and its yellow undertail feathers, which help differentiate it from two related and similar Leiothlypis species, the Tennessee Warbler and Lucy's Warbler.  

Songs and Sounds

The Orange-crowned Warbler's song is a rapid, stuttering series of rich chips, often lowering toward the end.

Its call is a thin chip, sounding almost as if made by a miniature Northern Cardinal.

Listen here:


Sue Riffe, XC845607. Accessible at


Isain Contreras Rodríguez, XC597921. Accessible at

Breeding and Feeding

Invisible Part of the Scenery

Orange-crowned Warblers usually nest on the ground, or near it, often in sloped situations such as hillsides or the banks of road cuts. The female chooses a sheltered nest site, often protected by some kind of draping vegetation or in a crevice protected by an overhang. There, she makes a cup nest of twigs, grasses, leaves, and moss, lining it with animal hair and finer grasses. The female lays four to five eggs, which she incubates for ten days to two weeks. Both parents feed the hatchlings, which remain in the nest for ten to 14 days.

Orange-crowned Warbler feeding at bottlebrush flower. Photo by Bill Coster, Alamy Stock Photo.
Orange-crowned Warbler feeding at bottlebrush flower. Photo by Bill Coster, Alamy Stock Photo.

Orange-crowned Warblers mainly eat invertebrates, but also berries, and sometimes nectar and tree sap (in winter). They will also visit suet feeders, particularly in winter.

Region and Range

Orange-crowned Warbler range map by ABC
Orange-crowned Warbler range map by ABC

Four distinct Orange-crowned Warbler subspecies are recognized, based on various differences, including those of plumage and song. Most birds migrating through or wintering in the East nest in the boreal forest (taiga) belt in northern Canada and Alaska. These birds show gray tones on head and back, except in the more yellowy adult males — but in all forms, the undertail coverts are the yellowest part of the plumage. At the other extreme are Pacific Coast breeders, which are an even, dull yellowish all over, matching more or less the undertail feather color.

The Orange-crowned Warbler nests across much of Alaska and Canada, south through the Rockies and Pacific Coast, down to far-northern Baja California, Mexico. This bird winters along the entire U.S. Pacific Coast (a few pop up in far-southern British Columbia as well), south across most of Mexico, and also in the U.S. Southeast. The Orange-crowned Warbler is a scarce winter visitor to the East Coast (rare in the Northeast) and to Guatemala and Belize, with a smattering of reports from a few other Central American countries.


Common but Declining

Help support ABC's conservation mission!

Thanks to its broad range and tendency to nest in regenerating or otherwise open situations, the Orange-crowned Warbler is not among the forest birds conservationists currently fret over. After all, few other warblers rate a population estimate as high as 82 million birds. But climate change could cause significant shifts in this bird's distribution: While warming might permit the Orange-crowned Warbler to move further north as tundra warms and alder and willow thickets creep in, the southern and eastern parts of the boreal forest might be adversely impacted by climate change, and the species could potentially lose significant parts of its southern and eastern breeding range.

Orange-crowned Warblers also endure threats faced by many other birds, including collisions with glass, communications towers, and other human-built infrastructure. Free-roaming cats also pose a threat to these low-feeding birds.

Get Involved

Policies enacted by the U.S. Congress and federal agencies, such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, have a huge impact on U.S. birds. You can help shape these rules for the better by telling lawmakers to prioritize birds, bird habitat, and bird-friendly measures. To get started, visit ABC's Action Center.

Living a bird-friendly life can have an immediate impact on the birds around you. Doing so can be as easy as adding native plants to your garden, avoiding pesticides, and keeping cats indoors. To learn more, visit our Bird-Friendly Life page.

American Bird Conservancy and our Migratory Bird Joint Venture partners have improved conservation management on more than 8.5 million acres of U.S. bird habitat — an area larger than the state of Maryland — over the last ten years. This is a monumental undertaking, requiring the support of many, and you can help by making a gift today.

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