warbler, name applied in the New World to members of the wood warbler family (Parulidae) and in the Old World to a large family (Sylviidae) of small, drab, active songsters, including the hedge sparrow, the kinglet, and the tailorbird of SE Asia, Orthotomus sutorius, named for its habit of sewing leaves together to make its nest. The American warblers number 119 species of small, generally insectivorous birds of mediocre singing ability. Those found in North America are migratory, spending only the summer north of tropical regions. They are brightly plumed in the spring, usually yellow marked with black, gray, olive green, or white, but after the autumn molt they become uniformly drab. Most are arboreal insect catchers; some, e.g., the black-and-white, the yellow-throated, and the pine warblers, crawl on trees like nuthatches and are sometimes called creepers, e.g., the honey creeper of tropical America. Best known are the yellow warbler, or summer yellowbird (also called wild canary), which often nests in gardens; the myrtle warbler, with a yellow rump patch, found along the Massachusetts coast; the redstart and Blackburnian warblers, both with vivid black and orange plumage; the Maryland yellowthroat, with a distinctive black mask; the black-throated blue and green warblers; and the pileolated, or Wilson's, warbler. There are a few exceptions to the generally low level of vocal ability in the New World warblers. The yellow-breasted chat, the largest (71/2 in./18.8 cm) of the warblers, is an excellent singer and mimic. The North American ovenbird, which looks like a miniature thrush, has a melodious flight song and is not to be confused with the true ovenbirds, which belong to the family Furnariidae. The water thrush is also a superior singer. Most warblers build open, cup-shaped nests at moderate heights; they are favored victims of the parasitic cowbird. Warblers are unusual in that they hybridize. They are of inestimable value as destroyers of insect enemies of forest trees. Warblers are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Aves, order Passeriformes, families Parulidae and Sylviidae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.