Beak of the Week – Magnolia Warbler

Magnolia Warbler (Setophaga magnolia)

Family: Parulidae

As migration in High Island continues, birders are seeing increasingly more mid and late-season migrants. Among them is our Beak of the Week, the striking Magnolia Warbler. Unlike Pine Warblers, Magnolia Warblers do not forage and nest predominantly in their namesake tree. Rather, the first Magnolia Warbler was collected from a magnolia tree in 1810, similar to how Tennessee and Cape May Warblers are named after their collection site. During migration, they typically forage for caterpillars and insects with their short, sharp bill in dense, mid-elevation wooded areas. They pass through the Eastern United States on their way to their northern breeding grounds and to their wintering grounds in Central America.

Male Magnolia Warblers are particularly showy with their necklace of thick black streaks on their bright yellow breast. They have a white wing panel, black back and mask, white undertail coverts, and gray crown. Females have thin black streaks on their flanks, although some have a weak necklace. Rather than a wing panel, females sport two white wing-bars. 

A distinctive feature of all Magnolia Warblers is their white undertail with a black tip. In a similar manner as American Redstarts, male Magnolia Warblers will fan and raise their tails to display the white feathers in both courtship and territorial disputes.

✏️By Phoebe Honscheid, Conservation Technician, Houston Audubon 

Greg Lavaty
Greg Lavaty
Anthony Rathbun

Our Beak of the Week is one of 12 birds featured in Confluence, a public art installation along the Bayou Greenway trail at the confluence of White Oak and Buffalo Bayous. The 223-foot mural, created by artist Jane Kim, founder of Ink Dwell Studio, showcases the birds that call Houston’s bayous home. Confluence is commissioned by Houston Parks Board and hosted in collaboration with Buffalo Bayou Partnership. Houston Audubon is pleased to provide ornithological expertise and collaborate on programming and promotion of the mural. Learn more about Confluence here. 

 Visit our Bird Gallery to read about other Texas birds! 

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