Warblers are wonderful singers, but they are a real challenge to attract to your yard.
They don’t eat seeds, so they won’t visit bird feeders. They don’t nest in cavities, so they won’t stay in birdhouses.
Warblers are solitary and shy, so it takes special effort to persuade them to stay in your yard.
Why We Love Warblers
Many bird watchers tell some version of the story of how the loud three-part trill of a warbler caught their attention and led to their fascination with the bird.
Birdwatchers venture into the woods to follow the warbler’s song and find tanagers, orioles, and grosbeaks, too and get hooked on birdwatching.
There are hundreds of species of warblers around the world. Not all of them are closely related to each other.
In Hawaii, there is a warbler that eats honey. In the continental United States and Canada, there are warblers that are more closely related to finches, titmice, and sparrows.
The Olive Warbler in Arizona and New Mexico with its tawny orange (in males) or yellow (in females) plumage forms a family of its own.
Warblers such as the Ovenbird, Waterthrush, the zebra-striped Black-and-White Warbler, Blue-Winged and Golden-Winged Warblers, Flame-Throated and Crescent-Chested Warblers, and Green-Tailed, Yellow-Headed, White-Winged, and 113 other species of warblers are unique to North America.
Some dedicated birdwatchers try to get at least a glimpse of all of them.
There is tremendous diversity among warblers, but they have some characteristics in common:
- Colorful plumage and patches
- Energetic activity, including acrobatics as they capture insects in mid-flight
- Insect-based diets that provide natural pest control
- A variety of vocalizations include warbles, whistles, trills, and other notes
Warblers are the prestige birds of backyard birdwatchers. They are regarded as the ultimate in backyard birding.
When you succeed in bringing warblers to your property, you will be rewarded with an extraordinary visual treat and a constant song.
How to Attract Warblers
As with any other bird, the key to attracting warblers is to provide them with their survival needs.
Warblers stay in locations that provide them with food, water, shelter, and nesting sites.
It’s harder to meet the needs of warblers to induce them to linger, but it’s not impossible.
Most of a warbler’s diet is insects. Making your yard insect-friendly also makes it warbler-friendly.
Plant flowers in masses rather than in scattered locations around your yard. Insects will use less energy finding their own food.
This will make them more available to feed warblers.
Choose plants with a variety of heights and sizes. They will provide a variety of niches for insect life that feed warblers.
Both birds and bugs benefit from a variety of plants that give them multiple locations for foraging and cover.
Use a bloom calendar to ensure continuous flowering in your yard. Having continuous blooms ensures a continuous insect supply.
Planting a pussy willow, for example, will add a few days of bloom in early spring, and planting asters will provide pollen and nectar for the insects on which warblers feed in late fall.
Keep in mind that double-flowered roses, dahlias, and camellias are usually sterile. They are great for show, but they do not produce pollen, nectar, fruit, or seeds for insects and birds.
Don’t undo your efforts by using insecticides. Use natural pest controls, like wasps for aphids, to keep insect pests in check.
A little plant damage may be the price you pay for keeping warblers in your yard.
Warblers drink water. They bathe their feathers in water to keep them clean.
And scientists have confirmed that reducing warblers’ water supply drastically decreases the amount of time they spend singing.’
Drinking water helps warblers eat more so they can add tiny amounts of body fat that give them the energy to migrate toward the equator for the winter.
An adequate supply of water keeps warblers from becoming “heat beat” during hot summer weather.
Avoiding dehydration keeps warblers from becoming stressed out — dehydration causes increases in their corticosteroid stress hormone levels — and keeps them acrobatically active on your lawn.
Placing a birdbath in a secluded area such as a thicket, where warblers are protected from overhead predators, or using a ground bird bath near dense folia helps warblers feel more secure.
However, when you are placing a birdbath in a secluded spot, you should make sure it is not also a prime location for predators such as cats.
Bubblers, drippers, fountains, and heated water all get the attention of warblers, as well as still pools in which warblers can see their reflection.
That’s the reason they prefer to avoid open spaces except for catching insects, although male warblers may perch in high, open places when they are claiming territory for their nest.
Dense plantings create warbler-friendly habitat.
Warblers naturally prefer thickets of thorny bushes, like roses, and they like to stay no more than 10 feet (3 meters) from the shelter in case they are approached by a larger bird that might attack them.
Plan a safe flyway through your yard for your warblers. Give them access to insects close to cover. Use native plants whenever possible, keep plants lush and full by pruning only when absolutely necessary.
Prothonotary warblers, Lucy’s warblers, and a few other species will use birdhouses.
Most warblers that you will want to attract to your yard, however, prefer to use the same kinds of shrubs and trees that they use for cover as their nesting site.
Provide them with a supply of bits of old cloth, soft string, and cotton balls (not Q-tips) as building supplies.
More Ways to Attract Warblers
Even when you have made your yard warbler-friendly with food, water, shelter, and nesting materials, they may still prefer to live in nearby woods.
Don’t give up!
Even if warblers don’t respond to your initial efforts, there are other things you can do to convince them to stay with you.
Don’t make your yard too bird-friendly
Warblers are shy birds. Your efforts to make your property bird-friendly may, ironically, drive warblers away by attracting too many other songbirds.
The solution may be, if your yard is large enough, to maintain the landscaping that attracts warblers separated by at least 20 feet (6 meters) from other amenities that all kinds of songbirds find attractive.
Discourage visits by feral cats
Cats love birds. Unfortunately, they love them as lunch.
Even a single sighting of a feral cat, or your pet cat, can discourage warblers from making a return appearance to your yard.
A humane way to attract warblers but discourage cats at the same time is to use scent. Cats don’t like citrus smells.
On the other hand, a warbler might use dried orange or lemon peels or spent lemongrass as building materials for a nest.
Planting the herb rue under the bushes and shrubs warblers use as cover also discourages cats.
You can use an animatronic scarecrow to scare cats the same way you can use it to scare away crows and owls.
Place Cat Scat mats on bare ground to discourage cats from digging, and keep garbage cans tightly closed. If your property is fenced, make sure there are no openings for cats to come to visit your yard.
Visit warbler hotspots for more ideas
If you see and hear warblers when you are out birdwatching, make a note of the plants most abundant where you see them.
Try adding some of these plants to your landscape to make your warblers feel at home.
Timing Is Everything
Our final advice for attracting warblers to your yard is to be patient — and to keep two things in mind about your warblers:
- Warblers in North America make long migrations across the eastern half of the continent as far north as Canada every summer and as far south as Cuba every winter. They may travel a little farther west on their way south and a little farther north on their way north. If you live on the fringes of the flyways for the kinds of warblers you are trying to attract, you may only see them one a year for a few months.
- The dozens of different species of warblers migrate on slightly different schedules. If you do not see a kind of warbler you were expecting, you may see warblers arriving in your yard as a surprise.
Species-Specific Recommendations to Attract Warblers
Sometimes different species of warblers have unusual requirements that give you an advantage in bringing them to your yard.
Here are some specialized recommendations for 10 of the best-known North American warblers.
The Yellow-Rumped Warbler is seen more often in Alaska and Canada than other species of warblers.
It has an ability to stay in cold-winter locations throughout the year without migrating because it can feed on berries as well as insects.
Berries that are rich in fat, such as sea buckthorn, are a great way to attract this warbler.
Magnolia Warblers zip through the southeastern United States on their way from their winter habitat in Central America to their breeding grounds in the northern states of the US from Minnesota to New England and southern Canada.
Magnolia Warblers like to feed on pine beetles.
If you have a fallen pine in your yard, leave it for the beetles to break down for you and to provide a special treat for Magnolia Warblers.
Brilliant yellow plumage is the rule among warblers, but male American Redstarts have black feathers with a splash of red on their chests, while females of the species have yellow under their tails and wings.
American Restarts of both sexes fan out their black tail feathers to scare insects into flight so they can catch them.
They get along well in gardens with less cover than other kinds of warblers.
If you see Redstarts when you are out birding, they may be a relatively easy species to invite to your yard with the benefits you provide other songbirds.
The Hooded Warbler builds its nests and forages on the ground.
It is a common summer visitor in deciduous forests with thick underbrush in the eastern United States.
It spends its winters in deciduous forests on the Pacific Coast of Central America.
Plant brambles under trees that lose their leaves in the fall to provide good habitat for this warbler.
Yellow Warblers are easy to pick out against spring foliage, and they are common enough that you won’t need to venture deep into the woods to find one.
They favor willows and woodlands regrowing after cutting or fire.
Focus your efforts on second-growth woodlands to attract this beautiful bird.
The uniquely colored Chestnut-Sided Warbler ranges as far west as Alberta and as far east as the Maritime Provinces in the summer, then spending its winters in the Gulf Coast States and Florida.
It’s another warbler that likes beetles that grow on dead logs.
Its ideal habitat would be a dead log that fell into dense brush.
Black-Throated Green Warblers
Black-Throated Green Warblers like to hover while they hunt for insects.
Give them protection from overhead predators like owls and hawks with kites and scarecrows.
We can’t advise you to leave some still water for growing the mosquitoes they love to catch, but low-growing flowering plants underneath protection are a good attraction for them.
Black-and-White Warblers have zebra-like stripes and a methodical feeding habit that gives them a touch of class.
You can attract them with some of the amenities you use to attract woodpeckers, such as a private birdbath undercover to protect them from predators.
They also like grubs growing in logs.
Blackpoll Warblers are the long-distance migration champions of the Warbler family. They may travel from Canada to Argentina and back every year.
They seem to like flying so much that they will even make side trips for no reason scientists can understand on their way between North and South America.
The older a Blackpoll Warbler gets, the farther it will deviate from a least-distance flight path.
These fascinating birds thrive on private feeders and birdbaths since they are unusually susceptible to viral diseases of their beaks.
Ovenbirds have racing stripes. They build their oven-shaped nests on the ground.
They also catch insects for themselves and their hatchlings on the ground.
If you want to attract ovenbirds, provide them with a safe nesting and foraging spot, protected from cats, dogs, skunks, raccoons, and other animals that could disturb their nests.
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