Winter: Southern Mexico (Oaxaca, Chiapas, Veracruz, and Yucatan Peninsula) south along the Caribbean slope (uncommon on Pacific slope) of Middle America to central Panama. Uncommon on Puerto Rico and St. John, rare on the other Virgin Islands.
Well-drained upland deciduous forests with understory patches of mountain laurel or other shrubs, drier portions of stream swamps with an understory of mountain laurel, deciduous woods near streams; almost always associated with hillsides. Along the coastal plain, habitats include well-drained oak and oak-hickory forests, flatland white oak forests along river terraces, and drier islands within non-tidal forested wetlands. Most abundant in mature woods but also may be common in young and medium-aged stands. Dense patches of shrubs or saplings may be an important component of territories.
This warbler is of moderate conservation importance, because of its relatively small breeding distribution, low overall density, association with mature forests, and its even more restricted winter distribution in tropical forests. Populations appear to be stable at present, although declines have been noted in the central Appalachian region. Knowledge of this species precise habitat requirements, area sensitivity, and response to silvicultural practices will be important for sustaining future populations.
Male: A stocky, short-tailed, and long-billed warbler. The upperparts, wings, and tail are olive brown, underparts are buffy, deepening to a rich pumpkin-buff on the breast. A wide, black stripe extends from the bill back through the eye to the neck, a second black stripe extends from the bill back above a buff-colored eyebrow, across the sides of the crown to the neck. The crown is buffy.
Female: Same as adult male.
Juvenile: Brown above and buffy below, stripes on the head are brownish rather than black.
Songs: The primary song is a simple, dry, high-pitched trill lasting about 2 seconds. Similar to the song of a Chipping Sparrow, but usually shorter and less musical. The Flight song, described as more musical than primary song and somewhat varied, is uncommon and usually given below the subcanopy during agonistic encounters. Only the male is known to sing.
Calls: Two types of calls regularly heard, chip and tseet . A soft chip may be communication between two birds, while a sharp, loud chip is given when a bird is particularly agitated, such as when predator is near nest. A tseet is frequently given between members of pair and particularly by birds involved in nesting activities.
Often seen hopping and climbing on, or hanging from, branches in the shrub and subcanopy layers while foraging in clusters of leaves. Early in season, forages in aerial debris and in suspended dead leaves. As leaves of the canopy and subcanopy trees emerge, individuals begin searching new leaves and opening leaf and flower buds. Often inserts bill intro crevice, hole or leaf curl, then opens bill and grabs prey.
Early in the season, prey includes arthropods, spiders, and slugs. In late spring and summer caterpillars become important, although other food items are taken as available, including arthropod larvae and adults, and slugs.
Behavior and displays
Nest site: Female selects site, on the ground, often near a stream or wetland. The nest, placed on a hillside or bank of ravine, is usually well hidden under a drift of dead leaves at base of a sapling, against roots of shrubs and trees, beside a rocky ledge or outcrop, or in dense low shrubs such as huckleberry and blueberry.
Height: Nest placed on ground.
Nest: The female forms a cup of skeletonized, pliable leaves; she may even dampen her breast feathers to moisten the leaves to shape the cup. The lining of a fresh cup is usually burnt-orange to red in color, imparted by moss stems; after 2-3 weeks they darken to mahogany. Additional lining materials include white-tailed deer and horse hair, pine needles, fine grass, and stems of maple leaves.
Eggs: 4-6 (usually 5) white to flesh pink eggs are speckled with shades of brown and drab, sparingly or profusely, often with markings wreathed about large end. Some eggs are immaculate. Eggs are laid in May, but will lay a replacement clutch through June if the nest is depredated or the eggs are otherwise inviable. Replacement clutches usually contain 4 eggs.
Incubation period: Female incubates for 13 days.
Nestling period: The young are brooded by the female only and fed by both parents. Nestling duration is usually 8-9 days, but young may fledge as early as day 5 if disturbed.
Fledgling period: Parents remain with the brood in shrub and subcanopy for about 3 weeks after fledging, commonly splitting the brood with 2-3 fledglings joining each parent. Parents use a distraction display when humans and other predators approach fledglings (see "Behavior and Displays" above).
Broods: Single brooded.
Cowbird Parasitism: A known victim of the Brown-headed Cowbird. Up to 75% of nests are parasitized in some areas.