Female / 1st Year Male. Note: black and white striped head and clean white throat (breeding male has heavy black streaking on throat).
  • Female / 1st Year Male. Note: black and white striped head and clean white throat (breeding male has heavy black streaking on throat).
  • Breeding Male. Note: black on throat.

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Black-and-white Warbler

Mniotilta varia
Members of this diverse group make up more than half of the bird species worldwide. Most are small. However their brains are relatively large and their learning abilities are greater than those of most other birds. Passerine birds are divided into two suborders, the suboscines and the oscines. Oscines are capable of more complex song, and are considered the true songbirds. In Washington, the tyrant flycatchers are the only suboscines; the remaining 27 families are oscines.
This large group of small, brightly colored songbirds is a favorite of many birdwatchers. Wood-warblers, usually called “warblers” for short by Americans, are strictly a New World family. Most of the North American members of this group are migratory, returning in the winter to the tropics where the family originated. Warblers that nest in the understory tend to have pink legs and feet, while those that inhabit the treetops usually have black legs and feet. North American males are typically brightly colored, many with patches of yellow. Most North American warblers do not molt into a drab fall/winter plumage; the challenge posed to those trying to identify warblers in the fall results from looking at mostly juvenile birds. Their songs are generally dry, unmusical, often complex whistles (“warbles”). Warblers that live high in the treetops generally have higher-pitched songs than those that live in the understory. Warblers eat insects gleaned from foliage or captured in the air. Many supplement their insect diet with some seeds and fruit, primarily in fall and winter, and some also eat nectar. Most are monogamous. The female usually builds the nest and incubates four to five eggs for up to two weeks. Both members of the pair feed the young.

    General Description

    Streaked all over black-and-white, this rare visitor to Washington is somewhat reminiscent of our resident Black-throated Gray Warbler but with the addition of a white central crown stripe and a white-streaked back, and without the Black-throated Gray’s yellow spot in front of the eye. It is also more elongated and flat-headed in appearance and has a telltale habit of hitching along bark and branches, rather like a nuthatch.

    The Black-and-white Warbler nests in a variety of deciduous and mixed forest habitats east of the Rocky Mountains, from the northern tree line to the edge of the Gulf coastal plain. It winters from Florida and the Greater Antilles through much of Mexico and Central America to northwestern South America and is one of the more frequent “eastern” warbler vagrants in the West. It breeds in northeastern British Columbia and occurs casually elsewhere in the province. In Idaho and Oregon it is a rare but annual visitor and is no longer on the review list in either state. Washington has close to 30 accepted records; many others have not been reviewed by the state bird records committee. Half of the accepted records are from May and June, while the remainder are spread across every month from August to March. Eastside records outnumber westside records by about 3:2.

    Revised November 2007

    North American Range Map

    North America map legend

    Federal Endangered Species ListAudubon/American Bird Conservancy Watch ListState Endangered Species ListAudubon Washington Vulnerable Birds List

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