Kentucky Warbler

Geothlypis formosa

Early Spring Date: April 24
Late Spring Date: May 23
Infrequently Seen

Spring: Kentucky Warblers seldom show up at Monticello Park. In most years, from zero to two are recorded. They nest in the dense understory of deciduous forests, usually near water. In past years, they have nested at Great Falls in Virginia and along the C&O Canal near Riley's Lock, but no longer. They still breed at Little Bennett Park in Montgomery County, Maryland.

Fall: Kentucky Warblers are rarely seen at Monticello during fall migration.

Where to See Them in the Park

Kentucky Warblers are skulkers who stay in the underbrush. They sometimes perch on a low branch and sing. Singing Kentucky Warblers can be difficult to locate, because they usually stay still on a branch while turning their head. You can watch the bird for a long time if you find one, but if the bird is nestled among the leaves, the search can be an exercise in futility.

Physical Description

Kentucky Warbler Male
Male - Photo by William Higgins

Adult male Kentucky Warblers have a black head and neck with a bright golden line that runs from the base of the bill over the eye, looping around it. The back is olive with no wingbars, and the underparts are bright yellow.

Kentucky Warbler Male
Male - Photo by William Higgins

If you encounter an adult male head-on, the black on the face looks like the runny mascara on some of the characters in the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Sometimes, birders mistake Canada Warblers for Kentucky Warblers because the Canada has a similar runny-mascara look.

Kentucky Warbler Female
Female - Photo by William Higgins

Females and second-year males are duller than the adult male, and the "mascara" is not nearly as pronounced.


Kentucky Warbler Male
Male - Photo by William Higgins

The song of the Kentucky Warbler sounds like a Carolina Wren — a loud churry-churry-churry-churry.

Hear the song of the Kentucky Warbler.


The Kentucky Warbler is in the same genus as the Mourning Warbler and Common Yellowthroat. It used to be in the same genus as the Connecticut Warbler, but the Connecticut now has the genus all to itself. The population of Kentucky Warblers has been declining. In the Spring, 2020, issue of Bird Conservation, the magazine of the American Bird Conservancy, Howard Youth wrote an article about the decline of the Kentucky Warbler.

Origin of Names

Common Names: Kentucky from the state where Alexander Wilson found the species to be abundant. The New World Warblers were named for their similar appearance to European warblers, to whom they are not related. Most of the New World warblers do not warble (sing continuously with notes that change frequently).
Genus Name: Geothlypis means a small ground bird.
Species Name: Formosa means beautiful.

Kentucky Warbler video footage

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