In late summer many of the eastern warblers have molted out of their bright breeding plumages. This is still a good time of year, however, to travel to Arizona in search of the colorful Red-faced Warbler.
Red-faced WarblerCardellina rubrifrons
In mountains of the Southwest, the brisk song of the Red-faced Warbler is heard in summer in leafy groves surrounded by conifer forest. This bird and the Painted Redstart, both Mexican border specialties, are our only warblers that wear bright red. In both, unlike many warblers, the females are nearly or quite as brightly colored as the males. Despite their conspicuous colors, both make the seemingly risky move of placing their nests on the ground.
Field MarksThe only United States warbler with a bright red face. It has a gray back, a black patch on the head, and a white nape.
Size5-5 1/2" (13-14 cm)
VoiceA clear, sweet song, similar to that of Yellow Warbler.
RangeSouthwestern United States to Durango, Mexico. Winters Mexico, Guatemala.
MigrationIn our area, migrants arrive in April, and most depart before mid-September. Migrants very rarely seen in the lowlands.
HabitatOpen pine-oak forests in high mountains. In our area, breeds mostly in mountain forests of Douglas-fir, Engelmann spruce, and ponderosa pine, mainly where small groves of deciduous trees such as oak, maple, or aspen grow among the conifers. In winter in the tropics, found in forests of pine, oak, alder, and other trees, at upper elevations in mountains.
FeedingDiet: Probably mostly insects. Diet is not known in detail, but undoubtedly feeds mostly on insects. Caterpillars may be important in diet; nestlings are fed many small green caterpillars.
Behavior: Prefers to forage in trees with dense foliage. Searches actively on outer parts of branches and twigs, and hovers to take insects from foliage. At times, does much of its foraging by flying out to take insects in midair. When not nesting, typically forages in mixed flocks with other birds.
NestingMales do not appear to defend territories, as singing males regularly cross near each other's nest sites, and even congregate in loose singing groups to attract females.
Nest: On the ground, well hidden at base of shrub, rock, grass tuft, tree trunk, or under log. Usually placed in leaf litter on slope or steep bank. Open cup, built by female, on mass of dry leaves and conifer needles; constructed of grasses, weeds, and bark, lined with plant fibers and hair.
Eggs: Usually 3-4. Pinkish white, flecked with brown. Incubated by female only, 15-17 days.
Young: Fed by both parents. Leave the nest 13 days after hatching. Parents split the fledglings, each adult attending half the brood for up to 4-5 weeks. All fledglings leave nesting territories by early August in Arizona, though adults remain. Probably 1 brood per year.
ConservationHas expanded its nesting range northward slightly in Arizona in recent decades. Could be vulnerable to loss of mountain forest habitat in Mexico.