This tiny, yellowish-green songbird sings a three-note series of accelerating chips. Despite its name, these warblers do not breed in Tennessee, and only pass through the state as they embark on their seasonal migration to their breeding grounds in Canada's boreal forest. 

Physical Description

Tennessee warblers are tiny, greenish birds with short tails and sharply pointed bills. Males in their breeding colors are marked by their gray heads with a white line over the eye, yellowish-green back and whitish-gray belly. Females generally show more yellow, especially on the underside. They are often mistaken for the orange-crowned warbler but can be distinguished by their white undertail feathers.


Adults are about 4.5 inches (11.5 centimeters) long.

Native Habitat

They can be found in woodlands, forest edges, and shrubby areas, typically high above the ground. During migration they are often found among flowering trees; in their wintering areas, they favor shaded coffee farms and plantations. 

In the spring and summer, these birds migrate from their winter homes in Central and South America to their breeding grounds in the northern United States and Canada, passing through much of North America along the way. Occasionally, vagrants are found in northern Europe.


The oldest known bird was 6 years old, but most probably live 1-2 years.


Male warblers have a loud, sharp chirping song that they use to establish their territory and attract females. 

Food/Eating Habits

During the breeding season, insects make up the bulk of their diet. They forage for caterpillars, beetles, and other insects high in the forest canopy. A common prey animal is the spruce bedworm.

During migration and winter, Tennessee warblers will expand their diets to include berries and nectar. Often referred to as "nectar thieves," they feed by poking a hole in the bottoms of flowers to drain out and drink nectar without contributing to the flower's pollination.

Social Structure

During spring and fall migration, Tennessee warblers form into mixed-species flocks.

Reproduction and Development

Many aspects of the Tennessee warbler's breeding status are not well known, due to the remoteness of the boreal forest habitats where they reproduce. Females often build nests in boggy ground, hidden in small depressions among bushes and other vegetation. Nests resemble an open cup and are made from thin grass stems and animal hair. They lay between four to seven eggs, which the female incubates for 11-12 days. 

Conservation Efforts

The International Union for Conservation of Nature does not consider Tennessee warblers to be especially at risk. However, like many birds that migrate at nighttime, individuals are threatened by collisions from man-made objects, like radio towers and reflective skyscrapers.

Help this Species

  • Reduce, reuse and recycle — in that order! Cut back on single-use goods, and find creative ways to reuse products at the end of their life cycle. Choose recycling over trash when possible.
  • Be a smart consumer. Choose products made with sustainable ingredients, such as Smithsonian certified Bird Friendly coffees, which support farmers striving to limit their impact on wildlife and habitat.
  • Be a responsible cat owner, and keep cats indoors or under restraint when outside. Never release animals that have been kept as pets into the wild.
  • Conservation starts with you! Join a citizen science project, such as FrogWatch or Neighborhood Nestwatch, where you can help collect valuable data for scientists. Encourage your friends and family to get involved too.
  • Plant native flowers in your garden to help feed resident and migrating pollinators. You'll make your lawn beautiful and help wildlife at the same time!

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