Which Little Yellow Bird is Flitting through the Forest near Lake Ontario?

Well, forest is a bit of a stretch. Most of these small yellow birds prefer a mixture of trees, bushes and open spaces. You’re most likely to meet them along the edges of a forest or park. There are other yellow birds in Ontario. These are just some of the most commonly seen ones.

American Goldfinches Often Over-winter in Southern Ontario

AmericanGoldfinchFemaleonNaturalCrooksDotCom
The short thick orange bill on this female American Goldfinch is a good field mark.

One familiar yellow bird is the male American Goldfinch. In late spring and summer, he sports shiny black wings and a small black cap. His back and head are chrome yellow and can catch the sun from a surprisingly long way off. Female American Goldfinches are also yellow in the breeding season, but have much more green to their colouring. Their wings are darker but they don’t have a black cap. In the off season, Goldfinches fade to a greyish-green with patches of yellow depending on the stage of their moult.

Photo of American Goldfinch Male on NaturalCrooksDotCom

Goldfinches like nyjer seed and are frequent winter visitors to bird feeders offering it. They will also perch precariously to eat seeds from dead stalks of black eyed susans, shasta daisies, asters and goldenrod. If you grow any of these in your garden, consider leaving a few stalks in place for the winter for the birds to feed from.

Yellow Warblers are Aptly Named

In late spring, usually late April or May, Yellow Warblers flock back to southern Ontario from their holidays to the south. As they zip around with enviable exuberance it can be hard to spot their field marks. If one calms down enough to perch, look first at the wings and head. No black cap and greenish not black wings means it’s not a male Goldfinch. Warblers also have a different shape of bill: it is narrower and longer than a Goldfinches beak.

Photo of Yellow Warbler on NaturalCrooksDotCom

If you’re looking at a male Yellow Warbler, it should have rusty red dash marks running vertically along its upper chest and sides.  Female Yellow Warblers are basically yellow all over with greenish wings. They don’t have the red marks or any black marks. Because the female’s yellow face is so plain, her black eyes show up quite clearly.

List most warblers, Yellows like to eat insects. They particularly like to hunt in thickets of low bushes and small trees. If you keep seeing a bright yellow bird in a thicket and can never get a really clear look, there’s a good chance it’s a Yellow Warbler.

Magnolia Warblers are Only Yellow on the Front

Another warbler that will catch your eye with its yellow is a Magnolia Warbler. (Apparently so named because the first one was shot dead out of a magnolia tree!)

Photo of Magnolia Warbler on NaturalCrooksDotCom

The male Magnolia is chrome yellow underneath: it’s throat, chest, belly and under the tail area are all yellow. Its back, however, is greyish black with a white patch on the wing and an obvious white eyebrow and a black mask. Instead of red streaks on the breast, it has strong black lines, often two of them, running vertically down each side of the chest.

Female Magnolias have a yellow throat, chest and abdomen, without the strong black markings. Their backs are a light grey and they don’t have the white eyebrow.

Photo of Magnolia Warbler Tail Stripe on NaturalCrooksDotCom

As I discovered when it spread its tail to land, male Magnolias also have a wide white band across their tail. According to a website providing information for bird banders, this band can be used to help determine information about the age and sex of the warbler.

Magnolias forage for insects often in lower branches and even near the ground. It catches many insects on the undersides of leaves and needles.

Other Little Yellow Birds

Of course this is just an introduction to the little yellow birds of southern Ontario. There are others out there you might meet, including

  • Canada Warblers
  • Cape May Warblers
  • Nashville Warblers
  • Pine Warblers
  • Wilson’s Warblers
  • Yellow Rumped Warblers

Ok let’s admit it, many warblers have yellow markings!
Some vireos and flycatchers also have yellow marks.

When in doubt, a good field guide, like Peterson’s is your best resource.

Related Reading

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Have you been watching warblers this weekend? Please share your experiences with a comment.

2 thoughts on “Which Little Yellow Bird is Flitting through the Forest near Lake Ontario?

  1. 7 or 8 years ago we would have as many as 12 yellow finches on our birdfeeders. The number is decreasing yearly. I wonder why. We are in south part of Haliburton County, Ontario. in cottage country near a lake. We also no longer get grosbeaks, and I just realized I have not seen a bluejay yet this summer. What causes the decline?

    • Overall Goldfinches are not in decline so there may be some local changes that are impacting the population. Is it possible there is less vacant land where thistles can flourish? Thistles are a primary food source for finches especially when they are nesting. (Goldfinches nest much later in the summer than other birds because they need the seeds to be ready.) Bluejays do vary considerably year to year depending on the previous winter’s weather. It may have been a hard winter in your area?

      There is always concern with migratory birds that changes in their wintering habitats could impact our summer Canadian populations.

      There also was some rough spring weather this year along the migration routes. You can see some amazing photos of exhausted migrants at
      http://www.texasbirdimages.com/home/2013-fallout—cameron-county where people were helping to feed the starving birds.

      If you want to help bird scientists who are studying changes in bird populations, there’s a website called eBird.org where you can report bird sightings. They look for trends and changes in reports.

      One thing that is noticeably missing in many parts of Canada this year is Monarch butterflies. They appear to have suffered badly in the last year, although I haven’t heard any official reason why.

      Sorry I don’t have any real answer for your question.

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