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Magnolia Warbler
Setophaga magnolia

The Magnolia Warbler is among the easiest of the warblers to identify because of the unique broad white tail-patches in the otherwise black tail. While the name suggests that this is a southern breeding bird, it is not. It got its name in 1810 when Alexander Wilson happened to collected the very first specimen from a magnolia tree in Mississippi. This bird would have been a migrant on its way north, perhaps to the boreal forest. The Magnolia Warbler breeds from southcentral Canada, southeastward to West Virginia (and possibly Tennessee), and winters in southern Mexico, Central America, and in the Caribbean. It is found in Tennessee during spring and fall migration, and may be a new breeding bird in the northeastern corner of the state.

Description: The male has a bold black-and-white facial pattern, a large white wing-patch, a yellow rump, and broad white tail-patches. The underparts are yellow with a black "necklace" across the breast and streaks on the sides. The female is duller and has two wing-bars. In the fall, the male looses this face pattern and both sexes acquire more drab plumage.
Length: 5"
Wingspan: 7.5"
Weight: 0.3 oz

Similar Species:

  • The tail pattern of the Magnolia Warbler is distinctive.

Habitat: The Magnolia Warbler breeds in small conifers, especially young spruces, in purely coniferous stands or in mixed forest. During migration in Tennessee, it is usually found in flocks with other migrants in wooded areas and along forest edge.

Diet: Insects

Nesting and reproduction: While unconfirmed, the Magnolia Warbler is a suspected breeder on Unaka and Roan Mountains in northeastern Tennessee.

Status in Tennessee: The Magnolia Warbler is a fairly common migrant across the state. In spring it arrives in late April and departs in late May; in fall it is present from late August to mid-October. It has been regular on Unaka Mountain, Carter Co., since 1989 and fledglings were observed there in 2000 and 2003, but a nest has not been found in the state. There are irregular breeding season reports from Roan Mountain.

Dynamic map of Magnolia Warbler eBird observations in Tennessee

Fun Facts:

  • The oldest known Magnolia Warbler in the wild was 10 years old.

Obsolete English Names: black-and-yellow warbler

Best places to see in Tennessee: May be seen in forests statewide during spring and fall migration. Unaka and Roan Mountains in northeastern Tennessee are places where they may be seen in the breeding season.

For more information:


Hall, G. A. 1994. Magnolia Warbler (Dendroica magnolia), The Birds of North America, No. 165 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.

Knight, R. L. 2008. The Birds of Northeast Tennessee. Universal Printing, Bristol, VA.

Robinson J. C. 1990. An Annotated Checklist of the Birds of Tennessee. Univ. of TN Press, Knoxville, TN.

Sibley, D. A. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. A. A. Knopf, New York, NY.