Make the ID: Fall Plumage

Male Magnolia Warbler spring and fall plumage. Photo Credit: Deborah Rivel


Songbirds are making their way south, but many of them sure look different than they did in spring! Most male birds who needed to look special to get a mate in spring, now don’t want to run the risk of being easily seen during migration or spend the energy to replace those fancy feathers with new ones for the overwintering season. Many of them replace the worn-out mating feathers with drabber ones – which makes some of them look like females. Take these male Magnolia Warblers above. If you look closely, you can see that the bright crisp markings on the bird on the left in his spring plumage can be seen in much-faded form on the bird on the right. But if you had only seen this bird in spring, you might be hard-pressed to believe this was the same one in fall. Warblers in fall can be extremely confusing as the males are not as obvious and clearly marked as they were a few months ago.

If you want a tool to help you ID warblers in North America at all times of the year, get The Warbler Guide app for iPhone. Offering spring and fall plumages and 360 degree views of the birds, including views from below, this app is an invaluable tool for any serious birder.