Myioborus castaneocapillus

New World warbler

This article refers to the New World wood warbler family of birds, the Parulidae. For the Eurasian species Phylloscopus sibilatrix, see Wood Warbler.

The New World warblers or wood-warblers are a group of small often colourful passerine birds restricted to the New World. They are not related to the Old World warblers (Sylviidae) or the Australian warblers.

Most are arboreal, but some, like the Ovenbird and the two waterthrushes, are more terrestrial. Most members of this family are insectivores.

It is likely that this group originated in northern Central America, which remains with the greatest diversity and numbers of species. From thence they spread north during the interglacial periods, mainly as migrants, returning to the ancestral region in winter. Two genera, Myioborus and Basileuterus seem to have colonised South America early, perhaps before the two continents were linked, and provide most warbler species of that region.

Many migratory species, particularly those breeding further north, have distinctive male plumage at least in the breeding seaon, since males need to reclaim territory and advertise for mates each year. This tendency is particularly marked in the large genus Dendroica. In contrast, resident tropical species, which pair for life, show little if any sexual dimorphism.

There are of course exceptions. The Seiurus waterthrushes and Ovenbird are strongly migratory, but have identical male and female plumage, whereas the mainly tropical and sedentary yellowthroats are dimorphic.

The Granatellus chats also show sexual dimorphism, but due to recent genetic work may soon be moved into the family Cardinalidae (New World buntings and cardinals).

All the warblers are fairly small. The smallest species is the Lucy's Warbler (Vermivora luciae), at about 6.5 grams and 10.6 cm (4.2 inches). By far the largest species is the Yellow-breasted Chat (Icteria virens), at 27 grams and 19 cm (7.5 inches).

The migratory species tend to lay larger clutches of eggs, typically up to six, since the hazards of their journeys mean that many individuals will have only one chance to breed. In contrast, two eggs is typical for many tropical species, since the chicks can be provided with better care, and the adults are likely to have further opportunities for reproduction.

The scientific name for the family, Parulidae, originates from the fact that Linnaeus in 1758 named the Northern Parula as a tit, Parus americanus, and, as taxonomy developed, the genus name was modified first to Parulus and then the current Parula. The family name, of course, derives from that genus.


There are a number of issues in the taxonomy and systematics of the Parulidae.

  • Sibley and Ahlquist have suggested that the family be merged with the Emberizidae as a subfamily Parulinae. The Olive Warbler, however would be removed from the group as the only member of the separate subfamily Peucedramimae.
  • The New World warblers are closely related to the tanagers, and some species like the conebills Conirostrum and the Bananaquit have been placed into either group by different authorities. Currently, the conebills are normally placed in Thraupidae and the Bananaquit in its own family.
  • Green-tailed Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, the Granatellus chats and White-winged Warbler, are other species where there have been questions as to whether they should be considered as warblers or tanagers.
  • The Pardusco, Nephelornis oneilli is also of uncertain affinities

Genera and species

Incertae sedis


  • Curson, Quinn and Beadle, 1994. New World Warblers. 252 p. ISBN 0-7136-3932-6
  • Lovette, I. J. and E. Bermingham. 2002. What is a wood-warbler? Molecular characterization of a monophyletic Parulidae. The Auk. 119(3): 695-714. PDF fulltext

External links


  • Dunn, Jon. 1997. A field guide to warblers of North America. Boston : Houghton Mifflin Co., x, 656 p. : ill. (some col.), col. maps ; 19 cm.
  • Morse, Douglass H. 1989. American warblers : an ecological and behavioral perspective. Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, xii, 406 p. : ill., maps.
  • Harrison, Hal H. 1984. Wood warblers’ world. New York : Simon and Schuster, 335 p., 24 p. of plates : ill. (some col.) ; 25 cm.

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