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Yellow Warbler - Setophaga petechia

Older male and young female Yellow Warblers tend to be readily identifiable, but caution should be exercised when ageing and sexing, taking into account as many features as possible.

There is a fair range in appearance among Yellow Warbler subspecies, as well as individual variability; these need to be taken into consideration, especially in areas where two or more subspecies may occur in migration.

Quick Tips:

  • Check the primary coverts - on HY/SY birds they have minimal edging and are often narrow, pointed, and quite dull and abraded by spring, while on AHY/ASY birds they have yellow edging and are broader, fairly rounded, and relatively fresh
  • Check the secondaries - on HY/SY birds they are brownish with little to no yellow edging, while on AHY/ASY birds they have yellow edging similar to the primary coverts (note that this criterion is most useful in spring, as the differences in fall can be slight)
  • Check the shape of the outer rectrices - on HY/SY birds they are fairly pointed and often abraded, while on AHY/ASY birds they are broader, fairly rounded, and more likely to remain fresh; note that colour pattern can be rather variable and should not be considered reliable except in extreme cases
  • Only after age has been determined, use breast streaks to help identify sex - AHY/ASY males have extensive reddish-brown streaking, SY males and ASY females tend to have finer, less extensive streaking, and HY males, AHY females, and HY/SY females have minimal streaking

Species account prepared by McGill Bird Observatory

Click on any image below to bring up the side-by-side comparison tool.
Age / Sex  Image sets 
Juvenile / Unknown
Mostly gray, with some yellow on the face, wings, and tail
Thumbnail - MG2-2430-42697-Setophaga_petechia_AOU_7_52-2873.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2430-42697-Setophaga_petechia_AOU_7_52-2871.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2430-42697-Setophaga_petechia_AOU_7_52-2872.jpg
Date: Jul 2
Hatch year / Male
Yellow plumage, sometimes with faint reddish streaks on the breast; primary coverts dull and with minimal edging, contrasting with more yellowish greater coverts; rectrices relatively narrow and tapered, with moderate amount of brown on outer feathers
Thumbnail - MG2-2600-16740-Setophaga_petechia_AOU_7_52-2849.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2600-16740-Setophaga_petechia_AOU_7_52-2847.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2600-16740-Setophaga_petechia_AOU_7_52-2848.jpg
Date: Aug 11
Hatch year / Female
Yellowish-green plumage, often with a grayish wash, and lacking reddish streaks on breast; primary coverts dull and with minimal edging, contrasting with more yellowish greater coverts; rectrices relatively narrow and tapered, with extensive brown
Thumbnail - MG2-2500-65528-Setophaga_petechia_AOU_7_52-2843.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2500-65528-Setophaga_petechia_AOU_7_52-2841.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2500-65528-Setophaga_petechia_AOU_7_52-2842.jpg
Date: Aug 1
After hatch year / Male
Yellow to golden plumage; may have distinct reddish streaks on breast; primary coverts with distinct yellowish edging, similar to greater coverts; rectrices broad and rounded, with little brown on outer feathers
Thumbnail - MG2-2600-16757-Setophaga_petechia_AOU_7_52-2864.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2600-16757-Setophaga_petechia_AOU_7_52-2862.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2600-16757-Setophaga_petechia_AOU_7_52-2863.jpg
Date: Aug 13
After hatch year / Female
Yellowish plumage with a hint of green; often with some indistinct reddish streaks on breast; primary coverts with distinct yellowish edging, similar to greater coverts; rectrices broad and rounded, with moderate amount of brown on outer feathers 
Thumbnail - MG2-2400-71045-Setophaga_petechia_AOU_7_52-2855.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2400-71045-Setophaga_petechia_AOU_7_52-2853.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2400-71045-Setophaga_petechia_AOU_7_52-2854.jpg
Date: Aug 15
Second year / Male
Fairly bold yellow plumage; primary coverts brownish, and contrasting with the yellow-edged greater coverts; light to moderate reddish streaking on breast; rectrices relatively narrow and tapered, with relatively little brown on outer feathers
Thumbnail - MG2-2650-43166-Setophaga_petechia_AOU_7_52-2813.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2650-43166-Setophaga_petechia_AOU_7_52-2811.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2650-43166-Setophaga_petechia_AOU_7_52-2812.jpg
Date: May 25
Second year / Female
Relatively pale yellow plumage; primary coverts brownish, and contrasting with the yellow-edged greater coverts; reddish breast streaks faint to absent; rectrices relatively narrow and tapered, with extensive brown on outer feathers
Thumbnail - MG2-2600-16031-Setophaga_petechia_AOU_7_52-2822.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2600-16031-Setophaga_petechia_AOU_7_52-2820.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2600-16031-Setophaga_petechia_AOU_7_52-2821.jpg
Date: May 18
After second year / Male
Yellow to golden plumage; primary coverts with distinct yellow edging, similar to greater coverts; bold reddish streaks on breast; rectrices broad and rounded with little brown on outer feathers
Thumbnail - MG2-2500-65246-Setophaga_petechia_AOU_7_52-2828.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2500-65246-Setophaga_petechia_AOU_7_52-2826.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2500-65246-Setophaga_petechia_AOU_7_52-2827.jpg
Date: May 7
After second year / Female
Fairly bold yellow plumage; primary coverts with distinct yellow edging, similar to greater coverts; light to moderate reddish streaking on breast; rectrices broad and rounded, with fair amount of brown
Thumbnail - MG2-2600-16647-Setophaga_petechia_AOU_7_52-2834.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2600-16647-Setophaga_petechia_AOU_7_52-2832.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2600-16647-Setophaga_petechia_AOU_7_52-2833.jpg
Date: May 15

Additional age / sex class descriptions

The following additional age / sex class descriptions were found for this species:
Age / Sex   Age / Sex class description
Hatch year / Unknown Yellowish-green to yellow, with minimal reddish streaks on breast; primary coverts dull and with minimal edging, contrasting with more yellowish greater coverts; rectrices relatively narrow and tapered, with moderate to extensive brown
Number of species: 80

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