Beak of the Week – Wilson’s Warbler

Wilson’s Warbler (Cardellina pusilla)
Family: Parulidae

The Wilson’s Warbler is well known for its constant motion while foraging. Even when perched, it tends to wag its tail and flick its wings. This bird is a common migrant that is often seen in the fall in the Houston area. It prefers to use its small, pointed beak to hunt for insects in low, dense thickets near water rather than the forest interior.

The males are easy to identify with their black cap that looks like a toupee, yellow face, and olive cheek. They are unmarked yellow below with a uniform, yellow-olive back and dark tail. Females and immature birds have an olive cap, although it is black and smaller in some females. They exhibit slight plumage variation depending on the region in which the Wilson’s Warbler is found. Eastern birds typically have a brighter yellow face and are smaller than western birds. 

Like several other birds, including Wilson’s Phalarope, Wilson’s Snipe, and Wilson’s Plover, the Wilson’s Warbler is named after Scottish poet-turned-ornithologist, Alexander Wilson. Although he described the Wilson’s Warbler in 1811, he did not name it after himself, instead calling it the “green black-capped flycatcher.” It was later renamed to honor Wilson (and correct his bird ID).
By Phoebe Honscheid, Conservation Technician, Houston Audubon
📸 Photos by Greg Lavaty

Visit our Bird Gallery to read about other Texas birds!

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