Prairie Warbler

Prairie Warbler (Setophaga discolor)

prairie warbler

Prairie warbler./J.D. Mays

General: Despite its name, the prairie warbler does not prefer open prairies. Instead, it lives in shrubby habitats created after a disturbance – a fire, a wind storm, a tree-killing insect or disease outbreak, or a timber harvest – opens up the forest canopy. Prairie warblers are yellow, with black streaks along their sides. They are active birds, often wagging their tails as they search for the insects, spiders, and other small invertebrates that make up the bulk of their diet. Prairie warblers build their nests in openings with patches of dense woody understory vegetation, such as overgrown fields with shrubs, or young regrowing forests. They place their nests in trees or shrubs, generally less than 10 feet above the ground.

Status: Prairie warblers have declined throughout most of their range, probably because of development and the maturing of young, open habitats into closed-canopy forest. The North American Breeding Bird Survey estimates a population decline approaching 2 percent per year between 1966 and 2014, amounting to a cumulative decline of 66 percent during that period. The prairie warbler is listed as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need in 17 eastern states.

How to Help Prairie Warblers: Management practices that increase the amount of young forest, including clearcut timber harvests, benefit warbler populations. In pine barrens, harvesting mature trees and conducting controlled burns can boost low-growing shrubs, such as scrub oak, helping prairie warbler populations rebound. Mowing older shrubs so that they grow back more densely can also help these warblers.
Both public and private landowners can make young forest habitat. The Young Forest Guide explains how.

Click on the map at left to see a larger image.

For more detailed information on the prairie warbler, including references to scientific papers, download Under Cover: Wildlife of Shrublands and Young Forest. This publication can also be purchased from the Wildlife Management Institute.

Visit a habitat demonstration area within this species' range to increase your chances of seeing prairie warblers and other wildlife that need young forest.