My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Magnolia Warbler, Setophaga magnolia

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Magnolia Warbler, Setophaga magnolia

The magnolia warbler is a member of the wood warbler family Parulidae. This warbler was first discovered in magnolia trees in the 19th century by famed ornithologist Alexander Wilson while in Mississippi.

This species is a moderately small New World warbler. It measures 11 to 13 cm (4.3 to 5.1 in) in length and spans 16 to 20 cm (6.3 to 7.9 in) across the wings. Body mass in adult birds can range from 6.6 to 12.6 g (0.23 to 0.44 oz), though weights have reportedly ranged up to 15 g (0.53 oz) prior to migration. Among standard measurements, the wing chord is 5.4 to 6.4 cm (2.1 to 2.5 in), the tail is 4.6 to 5.2 cm (1.8 to 2.0 in), the bill is 0.8 to 1 cm (0.31 to 0.39 in) and the tarsus is 1.7 to 1.85 cm (0.67 to 0.73 in). The magnolia warbler can be distinguished by its coloration. The breeding males often have white, gray, and black backs with yellow on the sides; yellow and black-striped stomachs; white, gray, and black foreheads and beaks; distinct black tails with white stripes on the underside; and defined white patches on their wings, called wing bars. Breeding females usually have the same type of coloration as the males, except that their colors are much duller. Immature warblers also resemble the same dull coloration of the females.

The magnolia warbler is found in the northern parts of some Midwestern states and the very northeastern parts of the US, with states such as Minnesota and Wisconsin comprising its southernmost boundaries. However, it is mostly found across the northern parts of Canada, such as in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec. During the winter, the warbler migrates through the eastern half of the United States to southern Mexico and Central America. The warbler breeds in dense forests, where it will most likely be found among the branches of young, densely packed, coniferous trees. The magnolia warbler migrates to the warmer south in the winter, wintering in southeastern Mexico, Panama, and parts of the Caribbean. In migration it passes through the eastern part of the United States as far west as Oklahoma and Kansas. During migration season, the magnolia warbler can also be found living in woodlands.

The magnolia warbler undergoes multiple molts during its lifetime. The first molts begin while the young offspring are still living in the nest, while the rest take place on or near their breeding grounds. The warblers molt, breed, care for their offspring, and then migrate. Chicks hatch after a two-week incubation period, and can fledge from the nest after close to another two weeks when their feathers are more developed. After about a month, the chicks can leave the nest to begin living (and later breeding) on their own since they are solitary birds. Magnolia warblers typically live up to 7 years.

This warbler usually eats any type of arthropod, but their main delicacies are caterpillars. The warbler also feeds on different types of beetles, butterflies, spiders, and fruit during their breeding season, while they increase their intake of both fruit and nectar during the winter. These birds also tend to eat parts of the branches of mid-height coniferous trees, such as spruce firs, in their usual breeding habitat.

Researchers have observed two different types of songs in male magnolia warblers. Their songs have been referred to as the First Category song and the Second Category song. Females have not been observed to have a distinct song yet as the males have; while they do sing, they don’t have separate songs for different situations. In general, the male warblers use their songs during the spring migration season and during the breeding season: one is used for courtship and the other is used to mark their territory each day. Both males and females have call notes that they use for various alerts: the females have short call notes to signal when a human observer is watching them, and the males have short call notes to signal when any sort of threatening predators are close to their offspring.

Male magnolia warblers go to their breeding grounds about two weeks before the females arrive. After the females come to the breeding grounds, both the males and females cooperate to build the nest for a week. Because of the difficulty of locating their nests among the forest’s dense undergrowth, it is hard to know whether the warblers re-use their original nests each breeding season, or whether they abandon them for new ones. The nests are built in their tree of choice, different types of fir trees, such as balsam fir and spruce fir. The nest is made up of grass, twigs, and horsehair fungus, and they are relatively small, shallow, circular-shaped nests, barely exceeding 10 cm on all sides. The nests are usually found close to the ground, commonly in the lowest three meters of the firs.

Female magnolia warblers usually lay three to five eggs during each breeding season. The female will not incubate her eggs until all of them are laid. The female sits on the eggs for about two weeks before the eggs hatch. The female is also the one that warms the newborn chicks by brooding, or sitting, on the nest; she is also the one who feeds the newborn chicks most frequently, though the males also engage in feeding the offspring at times. Because the males are technically as equally responsible for feeding the newborns as the females are, this means that the males are monogamous because they expend a large amount of energy looking for food for their young. The baby warblers are ready to fly out of the nest by the time they are ten days old.

On to my photos:

Magnolia Warbler, Setophaga magnolia

Magnolia Warbler, Setophaga magnolia

First year male Magnolia Warbler, Setophaga magnolia

First year male Magnolia Warbler, Setophaga magnolia

First year male Magnolia Warbler, Setophaga magnolia

First year male Magnolia Warbler, Setophaga magnolia

First year male Magnolia Warbler, Setophaga magnolia

First year male Magnolia Warbler, Setophaga magnolia

Magnolia Warbler, Setophaga magnolia

Magnolia Warbler, Setophaga magnolia

Magnolia Warbler, Setophaga magnolia

Magnolia Warbler, Setophaga magnolia

Magnolia Warbler, Setophaga magnolia

Magnolia Warbler, Setophaga magnolia

Magnolia Warbler, Setophaga magnolia

Magnolia Warbler, Setophaga magnolia

This is number 174 in my photo life list, only 176 to go!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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23 responses

  1. That’s an ambitious goal! I’m sure you’ll have countless hours of fun doing it. I’ve recently gotten into photographing the birds of Maryland, and I’m having a blast! I never thought to attempt what you are doing though. Sounds fun, I wish you luck.

    February 2, 2015 at 12:55 am

    • Thanks Chris! If nothing else, this project gets me out and to new places all the time, looking for the species of birds that I need to complete my goal. It is fun, but it can also be frustrating, when I miss my opportunity to add a new species because I was either too slow, or the light was too bad.

      February 2, 2015 at 8:43 am

  2. What a pretty little bird. I bet it wasn’t easy catching a shot of this one.

    February 2, 2015 at 1:01 am

    • Thanks Gunta! Actually, this species was rather easy, they don’t move as fast as most warblers, and they stay lower towards the ground most of the time.

      February 2, 2015 at 8:44 am

  3. I thought it was a pretty bird too and I see you are nearly halfway through your appointed task, well done.

    February 2, 2015 at 3:00 am

    • Thank you Susan!

      February 2, 2015 at 8:45 am

  4. Such a small bird!

    February 2, 2015 at 4:42 am

    • Thanks Cornel! You do very well with small birds as well.

      February 2, 2015 at 8:45 am

  5. The young ones (and duller females) would be extra hard to pick out from the green foliage I expect and remind me a little of the “silver eyes” we have here. The bright colouration of the breeding males is very pretty although I must say that their eyes look a little sleepy or drunk. They look to be difficult birds to photograph so you’ve done well! What a wonderful bird collection you already have. 🙂

    February 2, 2015 at 5:02 am

    • Thanks Jane! These are a relatively easy species of warbler to photograph, they move slower and stay lower than the other species that flit in the treetops most of the time.

      February 2, 2015 at 8:48 am

  6. These shots really remind me of spring!

    February 2, 2015 at 7:34 am

    • Thanks Allen! It’s funny that they remind you of spring, I think that they were all shot in the fall.

      February 2, 2015 at 8:46 am

      • I’m surprised! Shots 5,6 & 7 look just like the new spring leaves on a honeysuckle shrub. They stand up like that for a short time.

        February 2, 2015 at 10:58 am

      • So much for my memory, you’re right, some of them were shot in the spring. The best ones, which I remember better, were shot in the fall. 😉

        February 2, 2015 at 11:05 am

  7. I hope you move to a new state with different birds when you finally hit #350. I dread the when you’re finished with these posts.

    February 2, 2015 at 9:43 am

    • Thanks Judy! However, I doubt if I will ever finish this series, too many species are so rare that I’ll probably never see them, or get a good photo. Not to worry, I’ll keep working on getting better photos of the species I’ve already done, and there are plenty of other things in nature to photograph.

      February 2, 2015 at 9:45 am

      • Whew!

        February 2, 2015 at 10:29 am

  8. From the look of your shots the bird doesn’t limit itself to magnolia trees! I agree with the other commenters in thinking it a very pretty bird with really striking markings. I don’t suppose it could be mistaken for anything else.

    February 2, 2015 at 5:18 pm

    • Thanks Clare! They are a beautiful species of bird, but there are others that are similar. the Canada warbler comes to mind, it is yellow with darker markings on its breast and wings as well.

      February 3, 2015 at 3:56 am

  9. Great shots of a beautiful bird!

    February 2, 2015 at 5:54 pm

    • Thanks Bob!

      February 3, 2015 at 3:56 am

  10. What a gorgeous bird!!!

    February 6, 2015 at 6:51 am

    • Thank you Lori!

      February 6, 2015 at 8:13 pm