Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas)

Common Yellowthroat by Dennis MaluegCommon Yellowthroat distribution map


Population Information

Federal BBS information can be obtained at by clicking on Trend Estimates and selecting the species in question. All estimates are for 1966-2005.

Life History

Habitat Selection

The Common Yellowthroat is a widespread species that exhibits much variation in habitat and microhabitat use throughout its range. Although found in a wide variety of habitat types ranging from wetlands to upland pine forests, it always prefers sites with dense vegetation (Lowther 1993, Stevenson and Anderson 1994, cited in Guzy and Ritchison 1999). In Wisconsin it is expected in marshes, low meadows, open bogs, and wet, grassy fields and pastures (Mossman and Lange 1982, Bohlen 1989, Chen 1993, in Guzy and Ritchison 1999, Hoffman and Mossman 1993, Lowther 1993). In northern Wisconsin, Hoffman and Mossman (1993) found it less common in swamps dominated by conifers or black spruce than in more open bogs. In the same region, Chen (1993, cited in Guzy and Ritchison 1999) found that larger males established territories in bog-conifer communities, while smaller males were found in more grassy vegetation. In Minnesota Hofslund (1959) found the Common Yellowthroat along steep hillsides in habitats drier or more forested than where it usually is found. Within these different habitat types, the Common Yellowthroat generally forages under dense vegetation on or close to the ground (Guzy and Ritchison 1999).

Nests are constructed on or near the ground, often well concealed within a tuft of grassy vegetation (Stewart 1953, Hofslund 1959, Guzy and Ritchison 1999). Higher nests are more typical of those built in wetter habitats or later in the breeding season (Stewart 1953, Hofslund 1959).

Habitat Availability

Of all warblers breeding in Wisconsin, the Common Yellowthroat is the most evenly distributed across the state (Robbins 1991). Elias (1997) found it was one of the ten most abundant birds along the Bad River in extreme northern Wisconsin. Because of its versatility with habitat use, much suitable habitat remains in the state for the Common Yellowthroat. However, loss of wetlands and other preferred habitats in certain areas of the state may impact local populations (Elias 2006).

Population Concerns

Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) data suggest that the Common Yellowthroat population is increasing slightly in Wisconsin (Sauer et al. 2005), where it is a common breeder. During the six-year period (1995-2000) of the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas, observers confirmed breeding activity in 71% of the surveyed quads (Elias 2006). In other portions of its range, the Common Yellowthroat appears to be declining slightly (Sauer et al. 2005). Some local populations, particularly in California and Texas, have declined severely and are in great peril (Guzy and Ritchison 1999).

There are several factors that limit Common Yellowthroat populations. Because it nests close to the ground, it is vulnerable to a wide variety of predators (Guzy and Ritchison 1999). Brown-headed Cowbirds commonly parasitize Common Yellowthroat nests, often resulting in nest failure. Parasitism rates reported include 47.4 % in Michigan (Hofslund 1957), 22 % in Illinois (Graber et al. 1983), and 14.3 % in Minnesota (Hofslund 1959). Common Yellowthroats also are a frequent victim of tower and building collisions during migration. Over a 3-year period in Florida, 2,710 yellowthroats were killed at just one television transmission tower in Florida (Taylor and Anderson 1973).

Recommended Management

The continuation of wetland management, protection, and restoration efforts such as the Wetland Reserve Program and North American Wetland Conservation Act will benefit this species. Management efforts directed at waterfowl and other wetland-associated species will likely benefit Common Yellowthroats (Guzy and Ritchison 1999). Disturbances that create thick vegetative growth, such as timber harvest (Yahner 1993, Yahner 1997, Brawn et al. 2000) and tree die-off from disease (Canterbury and Blockstein 1997), will provide habitat for the short-term.

Research Needs

More research is needed on the breeding behavior, nesting success, and population dynamics of this species. Long-term demographic studies involving marked populations also are warranted (Guzy and Ritchison 1999). In Wisconsin the effects of habitat alteration (drainage, etc.) on this species have not been studied.

Information Sources


Contact Information

Kreitinger, K., Y. Steele and A. Paulios, editors. 2013.
The Wisconsin All-bird Conservation Plan, Version 2.0. Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative.
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Madison, WI.

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