The Prairie Warbler (Setophaga discolor) is a small, brightly colored songbird that breeds in the eastern United States. Adults measure about 4.5 inches in length and weigh between 0.3 to 0.4 ounces. Males and females have similar physical characteristics, with olive-green upperparts and bright yellow underparts. They have black streaks on their sides and a rusty brown patch on their back. The males also have a striking black facial mask and throat, while females have a more subdued version of these markings.
One of the most distinguishing field marks of the Prairie Warbler is its song, which has been described as a “chip-chur-chi-chip” or “zee-zee-zee-zoo-zee.” This species is known for its acrobatic foraging behavior, often hopping along branches and hanging upside-down to search for insects in the foliage. During the breeding season, they can be found in young, regenerating forests and brushy areas with scattered trees.
Prairie Warblers are neotropical migrants, spending their winters in the Caribbean and Central America. They begin their southward migration in August and September, and return to their breeding grounds in the eastern United States in April and May. During the migration period, they can be found in a variety of habitats, including open woodlands, fields, and coastal scrub.
Despite their common name, the Prairie Warbler is not limited to prairies, and can be found in a variety of habitats, including young, regenerating forests, pine plantations, and scrubby areas. However, they are most commonly associated with early successional habitats, and are an indicator species for shrubland and young forest habitats. Due to habitat loss and fragmentation, the Prairie Warbler has experienced declines in some parts of its range, and is considered a species of conservation concern in several states. Conservation efforts aimed at maintaining early successional habitats and promoting forest regeneration can benefit this species and other wildlife that depend on these important habitats.