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Gardening for Warblers

Fall bird migration is in full swing in South Carolina. As our temperatures cool and the days get shorter, many birds start preparing to move south. Many warblers pass through the South Carolina Botanical Garden (SCBG) on their way to subtropical and tropical areas. If you visit the SCBG with your binoculars, you may see some warblers in the migratory flight path located below and behind the Bob Campbell Geology Museum.

Warblers are members of the Parulidae family. Half of the roughly 110 species in this family are migratory, spending summers in North America and overwintering in subtropical or tropical climates. Spotting warblers is no easy task since they are very small songbirds, generally less than 6 inches long and weighing under an ounce. Not only this, but they are in constant motion as they dart about in the trees, searching for insects. As with other birds, knowing their song, field marks, range, habits, and preferred habitats can make identification easier, but they are still quite tricky to spot. The challenges faced when searching for warblers make them often a highly prized sight for birdwatchers!

Warblers are not likely to visit a bird feeder in your garden since they prefer mature forests and are predominantly insectivores. However, you can help support and encourage them by providing an insect-rich habitat. Give up chemical pest control as much as possible and instead rely on integrated pest management principles.

Plant a native oak tree! It is estimated that, as a species, oaks are the host plants for 900 species of Lepidoptera alone.1 In addition, oaks provide cover and nesting sites for many birds and animals beyond warblers. Maple trees are also an important species to add to your landscape for birds.

  • Some plants to grow to attract warblers include the following:
  • American Elderberry (Nesting, Fruit)
  • Eastern Hemlock (Nesting)
  • Eastern White Pine (Nesting)
  • Maple (Nesting)
  • Northern Bayberry (Favorite of Yellow-Rumped Warbler)
  • Oak (Nesting)
  • Serviceberry (Fruit)
  • Willow (Nesting)
  • Pokeweed (Fruit)
  • Virginia Creeper (Fruit) 2

Although warblers are predominantly insectivores, they will eat berries and seeds if necessary.

Finally, warblers are most attracted to running water. By adding an active water feature to your garden, you may increase your number of warbler visitors, and probably many other happy birds too!

For more information, see HGIC 1700, Attracting and Feeding Songbirds.

For real-time mapping of seasonal bird movements, see Birdcast.

References:

  1. https://awaytogarden.com/oaks-the-most-powerful-plant-of-all-with-doug-tallamy/
  2. https://www.exploringbirds.com/posts/how-to-attract-warblers
Blue-winged warbler Vermivora cyanoptera Photos from Linda Montgomery

Blue-winged warbler (Vermivora cyanoptera).
Photos from Linda Montgomery

Hooded warbler Setophaga citrina Photos from Linda Montgomery

Hooded warbler (Setophaga citrina).
Photos from Linda Montgomery

Black-and-white warbler Mniotilta varia Photos from Linda Montgomery

Bay-breasted warbler (Setophaga castanea)
Photos from Linda Montgomery

Black-and-white warbler Mniotilta varia Photos from Linda Montgomery

Black-and-white warbler (Mniotilta varia).
Photos from Linda Montgomery

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at hgic@clemson.edu or 1-888-656-9988.

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