The Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas) is a widespread breeding migrant to the United States and Canada. These boldly marked warblers are common but shy birds that spend their time skulking through dense vegetation in search of small insects. Adult male Common Yellowthroats are easy to identify by their bright yellow throat, black bandit-like mask, and white/gray forehead, but females pose more of a challenge.
Would you like to know what female Common Yellowthroats look like and how they differ from males?
You can identify female Common Yellowthroats by their olive green ground color and yellow throat and breast. Look out for these warblers in low thick vegetation, particularly around wetlands. They are year-round residents in the Southwest and Southeast but spring and summer visitors elsewhere.
There are several North American songbirds with predominantly olive and yellow coloration, although the female Common Yellowthroat is one of the most common and widespread species. Although less vocal than their male counterparts, you may be alerted to the presence of one of these birds by its alarm call long before you see it.
This guide covers the identification and unique behaviors of the female Common Yellowthroat. Read along with us to learn everything you need to know.
Close up of a female Common Yellowthroat perched on a branch, during spring migration
There are some fascinating behavioral differences between male and female Common Yellowthroats, but plumage differences offer the most reliable distinction between the sexes.
Identifying the sex of an adult Common Yellowthroat is easy if you get a look at the bird’s face. Females lack white and black face markings and have paler yellow throats than their male counterparts.
However, distinguishing between adult females and juvenile males can be challenging. Young males appear similar to females, although you can often make out a faint black face mask that will darken by the following spring.
Continue reading for a more detailed description of the female Common Yellowthroat.
Female Common Yellowthroat
Male Common Yellowthroat
The female Common Yellowthroat is a typical American warbler with a short, sharp bill, long legs, and a medium-length rounded tail. Their olive upper parts extend onto the crown and cheeks and, true to their name, most females have a yellow throat. However, the amount of yellow plumage varies.
Females may have an indistinct pale ring around their dark eyes, and the boundary between their olive cheeks and yellow throats is often clearly defined.
Some females have more extensive yellow plumage on the breast and underparts, although the color change from the dark upper parts is more gradual on their flanks and belly. The base of their tail is yellowish, although not as bright as the throat.
Close up of a Common Yellowthroat (female) perched on a branch
Male and female Common Yellowthroats differ little in size. Males have slightly longer wings and tails and are slightly heavier on average. However, the size difference will not be noticeable to the casual birdwatcher.
There is virtually any difference between the size of male and female Common Yellowthroats
Plumage differences provide a simple way to distinguish Common Yellowthroat females from males, but behavioral differences provide birdwatchers with an excellent window into the species’ biology. Read on to learn about their sex-specific behaviors.
Common Yellowthroats are resident throughout the year in parts of the Southwest and Southeast, but most populations migrate north to breed in the spring and summer (May - October). This widespread species breeds in each of Canada’s provinces and as far north as Western Alaska.
Males return about a week earlier than females in the spring. They become aggressive once the females arrive on the nesting grounds, and pairs form quickly in suitable habitats.
Males appear to be very protective over their partners and will attract attention to themselves and warn the female if a predator enters their territory.
Female Common Yellowthroats appear to be most attracted to males with dark masks, but there is more to their courtship than looks alone. Males display by singing and following the female while flicking their wings and engaging in display flights.
If she accepts his advances, the female Common Yellowthroat will encourage mating by crouching, calling, and lifting her tail.
Common Yellowthroats are usually monogamous in the breeding season, although some males have two partners. Females are not faithful and will mate readily with neighboring males who enter their territory.
Females seem to be attracted to males with the darker masks - close up of a perched male
Common Yellowthroats are vocal songbirds, and birders hear them more often than they see them due to their skulking habits and dense habitats. The male alone produces his characteristic ‘which-is-it?’ song, although both sexes call.
Female Common Yellowthroats do not usually sing. However, one female from New York State sang for about a week leading up to egg laying. Her song was quite unlike her partner’s.
Singing may be rare, but females call often. They produce a scolding ‘chip’ alarm call when they detect a predator or human. Females also use a chitter call in the nesting season.
Female Common Yellowthroats don't usually sing
Common Yellowthroat nesting is tough to observe because the birds are very secretive. However, birdwatchers lucky enough to locate a nest will note some distinct behavioral differences. Continue reading for a brief overview of the female’s nesting responsibilities and behaviors.
The female Common Yellowthroat builds the nest at her chosen site, low to the ground, without assistance from her partner. She works quickly, completing the nest after just a few mornings before laying three to five eggs.
She incubates the eggs alone, which takes about twelve days. Once hatched, she broods the chicks alone, spending more time away from the nest as their food demands increase but sheltering her young during the night and in hot conditions.
The male has been little help until this point, but he does assist in feeding the hatchlings. Both parents work together to bring insects for the growing chicks, which fledge the nest after about twelve days but only reach independence about a month after hatching.
Female Common Yellowthroat gathering nesting materials
There are several American Songbirds with a predominantly olive/yellowish appearance. Larger species like the female Scarlet Tanager could confuse less experienced birdwatchers, but other American Warblers are more of a challenge.
Compare the female Yellowthroat with the following similar species to confirm your sighting:
Common Yellowthroats are known to hybridize with several other warbler species, creating intermediate offspring that are challenging to identify.
Female Common Yellowthroat perched on the ground in Central Park, New York City
Female Common Yellowthroats are unlikely to succeed in raising their young alone. Females build the nest and incubate the eggs alone, but they rely on their partner to assist in feeding the chicks and occasionally to provide food while sitting on the eggs.
Female Common Yellowthroats are predominantly olive green. Their throats are yellow, and the vent area is often yellower than the surrounding plumage. Their legs vary from pinkish to brown, and their bills and eyes are brown.
Female Common Yellowthroats are vocal when a predator or intruder enters their territory. They produce a sharp, single-noted chip call in alarm. Females also use a chittering call to signal their readiness to mate.
Female Common Yellowthroat about to take off from the branch
Female Common Yellowthroats rarely sing. However, males may perch quite prominently while singing, and listening out for their well-known ‘wichety-wichety’ song is one of the most reliable ways to detect these birds.
Female Common Yellowthroats are territorial during the breeding season, but only toward other females of their own species.
Female Common Yellowthroats have yellow throats indeed, and this is one of the best features to look for when making an identification. However, the brightness of their throat varies somewhat across their distribution.
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