<< Return to Tennessee's Birds


Blackburnian Warbler
Setophaga fusca

The male Blackburnian Warbler is a favorite for many people. He is well worth the neck strain it takes to see him while he sings and forages in the treetops. No other warbler has an orange throat, and his is flaming! Blackburnian Warblers are uncommon migrants across the state, and nearly reach the southern limit of their breeding range in the mountains of East Tennessee. The breeding range includes the northern spruce woods of Canada to the northeastern United States and the higher elevations of the Appalachian range into Georgia. Blackburnians spend the winter farther south than most Neotropical migrants, traveling to the Andean highlands from Venezuela to Peru.

Description: In breeding plumage the male Blackburnian has a flame-colored throat, and a bright orange eyebrow-line over a small black facemask. His back is black with white streaks, and the wings are black with two broad white wing-bars that connect making a white patch. Males molt in August and September into their non-breeding plumage, which is similar to the breeding plumage, but the orange on the throat changes to yellow, and the wing-bars look more like two separate bars. The female has a similar pattern to the male, but is much duller and keeps this plumage year round. First year birds (August-March) look similar to the female.
Length: 5"
Wingspan: 8.5"
Weight: 0.34 oz

Voice: The male's song consists of a musical series of seet-say notes, ending with as extremely high, thin trill.

Similar Species:

  • The male Blackburnian Warbler is distinctive; no other North American warbler has an orange throat.
  • Female Cerulean Warblers resemble female Blackburnians, but Ceruleans are greenish-blue above, have no stripes on their back, and no obvious facemask.

Habitat: In Tennessee, the Blackburnian Warbler breeds in mature coniferous and mixed forests above 3,000 feet in the Appalachians, and in deciduous forest above 2,100 feet in the Cumberland Mountains.

Diet: Insects, caterpillars, and spiders.

Nesting and reproduction: As with most migratory songbirds, the male arrives on the territory several days before the female. Pairing occurs shortly after she arrives.

Clutch Size: Usually 4 eggs, with a range of 3 to 5.

Incubation: The female does the incubating, which lasts 12 to 13 days.

Fledging: Both parents feed the young, but it is still not known how old the chicks are when they fledge.

Nest: The female alone builds the open cup-nest of twigs, bark, plant fibers, and lines it with lichens, moss, and other fine material. She uses spider webs to attach the nest near the tip of a branch. Nest heights range from 5 to 82 feet above the ground, with an average around 300 feet.

Status in Tennessee: The Blackburnian is an uncommon, but regular migrant statewide. It breeds in the higher elevations: usually above 3,000 feet in the Appalachian Mountains, and above 2,100 feet in the Cumberland Mountains of Tennessee.

Dynamic map of Blackburnian Warbler eBird observations in Tennessee

Fun Facts:

  • The Tennessee Breeding Bird Atlas found the Blackburnian Warbler to be the rarest warbler regularly nesting in the state.
  • The Blackburnian Warbler is named after Anna Blackburne, an English naturalist (1726-1793).

Best places to see in Tennessee: During the breeding season the Blackburnian Warbler can be found in the higher elevations of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Frozen Head State Natural Area. During migration it might be encountered in any large forested track in a flock with other migrants.

For more information:

Smithsonian Institute Migratory Bird Center


Morse, D. H. 1994. Blackburnian Warbler (Dendroica fusca). The Birds of North America, No. 102 (A. Poole, and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.

Nicholson, C. P. 1997. Atlas of Breeding Birds of Tennessee. Univ. of Tennessee Press, Knoxville.

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

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