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New World warbler

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New World warbler
Prothonotary warbler (Protonotaria citrea)
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Superfamily: Emberizoidea
Family: Parulidae
Wetmore et al., 1947
Type genus
Bonaparte, 1838


The New World warblers or wood-warblers are a group of small, often colorful, passerine birds that make up the family Parulidae and are restricted to the New World. The family contains 120 species. They are not closely related to Old World warblers or Australian warblers. Most are arboreal, but some, like the ovenbird and the two waterthrushes, are primarily terrestrial. Most members of this family are insectivores.

This group likely originated in northern Central America, where the greatest number of species and diversity between them is found. From there, they spread north during the interglacial periods, mainly as migrants, returning to the ancestral region in winter. Two genera, Myioborus and Basileuterus, seem to have colonized South America early, perhaps before the two continents were linked, and together constitute most warbler species of that region.

The scientific name for the family, Parulidae, originates from the fact that Linnaeus in 1758 named the northern parula as a tit, Parus americanus, and as taxonomy developed, the genus name was modified first to Parulus and then to Parula. The family name derives from the name for the genus.



Seiurus – ovenbird

Helmitheros – worm-eating warbler

Parkesia – 2 species – waterthrushes

Vermivora – 3 species

Mniotilta – black-and-white warbler

Limnothlypis – Swainson's warbler

Protonotaria – prothonotary warbler

Leiothlypis – 6 species

Oreothlypis – 2 species

Geothlypis – 15 species – yellowthroats

Leucopeza – Semper's warbler

Oporornis – Connecticut warbler

Catharopeza – whistling warbler

Setophaga – 36 species

Myiothlypis – 18 species

Basileuterus – 12 species

Cardellina – 5 species

Myioborus – 12 species – whitestarts

Cladogram showing the relationships between the genera[1][2]

The family Parulidae was introduced for the New World warblers in 1947 by American ornithologist Alexander Wetmore and collaborators with Parula as the type genus.[3] Parula is now considered as a junior synonym of Setophaga.[2]

The family was formerly thought to be sister to a clade containing the yellow-breasted chat in its own family Icteriidae, the wrenthrush in its own family Zeledoniidae, the two Cuban warblers in the family Teretistridae and the 109 species in the family Icteridae.[4][1] However, more recent studies recover them as sister to a clade containing just the yellow-breasted chat and the Icteridae, with the clade containing all three families being sister to a clade containing the chat-tanagers in Calyptophilidae, the wrenthrush, and the Phaenicophilidae.[5]

A molecular phylogenetic study of the Parulidae published in 2010 found that the species formed several major clades that did not align with the traditional genera.[2] This led to a major reorganization of the species within the family to create monotypic genera. The changes have generally followed the recommendations of the authors of the study except in a few cases where the proposed genera were split to separate basal species from their proposed conspecifics.[1][2]

A large clade that included the 29 species then placed in the genus Dendroica, also included four species of Parula, one of the three species of Wilsonia and the monotypic genera Catharopeza and Setophaga. All members of the clade apart from the basal Catharopeza were placed in the expanded genus Setophaga Swainson, 1827, which under the rules of the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, had priority over Dendroica Gray, 1842, Wilsonia Bonaparte, 1838, and Parula Bonaparte, 1838.[1][2]

The species that had traditionally been placed in Basileuterus formed two clades. One group retains the genus name as it includes the golden-crowned warbler, the type species for the genus. The other larger group, now with 18 species, is placed in the resurrected genus Myiothlypis Cabanis, 1850, as it contains the type species, the black-crested warbler.[1][2]

The genus Myioborus containing the whitestarts remained unchanged after the reorganization but six genera were no longer used: Dendroica, Ergaticus, Euthlypis, Parula, Wilsonia and Phaeothlypis.[1][2]

Extant Genera[edit]

The family Parulidae now contains 120 species divided into 18 genera.[1]

Image Genus Living Species
Seiurus Swainson, 1827
Helmitheros Rafinesque, 1819
Parkesia Sangster, 2008
Vermivora Swainson, 1827
Mniotilta Vieillot, 1816
Protonotaria Baird, 1858
Limnothlypis Stone, 1914
Oreothlypis Ridgway, 1884
Leiothlypis Sangster, 2008
Leucopeza Sclater, 1876
Oporornis Baird, 1858
Geothlypis Cabanis, 1847
Catharopeza P.L. Sclater, 1880
Setophaga Swainson, 1827
Myiothlypis Cabanis, 1850
Basileuterus Cabanis, 1848
Cardellina Bonaparte, 1850
Myioborus Baird, 1865

Former species[edit]

Some species that were previously placed in the Parulidae have been moved to other families:[1][2][4]


All the warblers are fairly small. The smallest species is Lucy's warbler (Oreothlypis luciae), with a weight of around 6.5 g (0.23 oz) and an average length of 10.6 cm (4.2 in). The Parkesia waterthrushes, the ovenbird, the russet-crowned warbler, and Semper's warbler, all of which can exceed 15 cm (5.9 in) and 21 g (0.74 oz), may be considered the largest.

The migratory species tend to lay larger clutches of eggs, typically up to six, since the hazards of their journeys mean that many individuals will have only one chance to breed. In contrast, the laying of two eggs is typical for many tropical species, since the chicks can be provided with better care, and the adults are likely to have further opportunities for reproduction.

Many migratory species, particularly those which breed further north, have distinctive male plumage at least in the breeding season, since males need to reclaim territory and advertise for mates each year. This tendency is particularly marked in the large genus Setophaga (formerly Dendroica). In contrast, resident tropical species, which pair for life, show little if any sexual dimorphism, but exceptions occur. The Parkesia waterthrushes and ovenbird are strongly migratory, but have identical male and female plumage, whereas the mainly tropical and sedentary yellowthroats are dimorphic. The Granatellus chats also show sexual dimorphism, but due to recent genetic work, have been moved into the family Cardinalidae (New World buntings and cardinals).

The name warbler is a misnomer for the New World group of warblers established before the family was split from the Old World warbler in the 1830s. The Random House Dictionary defines "to warble" as "to sing with trills." Most New World warblers do not warble, but rather "lisp, buzz, hiss, chip, rollick, or zip."[6]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Gill, Frank; Donsker, David; Rasmussen, Pamela, eds. (July 2023). "New World warblers, mitrospingid tanagers". IOC World Bird List Version 13.2. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 22 November 2023.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Lovette, I.J.; Pérez-Emán, J.L.; Sullivan, J.P.; Banks, R.C.; Fiorentino, I.; Córdoba-Córdoba, S.; Echeverry-Galvis, M.; Barker, F.K.; Burns, K.J.; Klicka, J.; Lanyon, S.M.; Bermingham, E. (2010). "A comprehensive multilocus phylogeny for the wood-warblers and a revised classification of the Parulidae (Aves)". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 57 (2): 753–770. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2010.07.018. PMID 20696258.
  3. ^ Wetmore, A.; Friedmann, H.; Lincoln, F.C.; Miller, A.H.; Peters, J.L.; van Rossem, A.J.; Van Tyne, J.; Zimmer, J.T. (1947). "Twenty-second supplement to the American Ornithologists' Union checklist of North American birds" (PDF). Auk. 64 (3): 445–452 [451]. doi:10.2307/4080390. JSTOR 4080390.
  4. ^ a b Barker, F.K.; Burns, K.J.; Klicka, J.; Lanyon, S.M.; Lovette, I.J. (2015). "New insights into New World biogeography: An integrated view from the phylogeny of blackbirds, cardinals, sparrows, tanagers, warblers, and allies". Auk. 132 (2): 333–348. doi:10.1642/AUK-14-110.1. S2CID 53058340.
  5. ^ Oliveros, C.H.; et al. (2019). "Earth history and the passerine superradiation". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States. 116 (16): 7916–7925. doi:10.1073/pnas.1813206116. PMC 6475423. PMID 30936315.
  6. ^ Harrison, Hal H. (1984). Wood Warblers' World. New York City: Simon & Schuster. p. 17.

Further reading[edit]

  • Curson, Quinn and Beadle, 1994. New World Warblers. 252 p. ISBN 0-7136-3932-6
  • Dunn, Jon L.; Garrett, Kimball L. (1997). A Field Guide to Warblers of North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 978-0-395-78321-4.
  • Harrison, Hal H. 1984. Wood Warblers’ World. New York : Simon and Schuster, 335 p., 24 p. of plates : ill. (some col.) ; 25 cm.
  • Lovette, I. J. and E. Bermingham. 2002. What is a wood-warbler? Molecular characterization of a monophyletic Parulidae. The Auk. 119(3): 695–714. PDF fulltext[permanent dead link]
  • Morse, Douglass H. 1989. American Warblers : an Ecological and Behavioral Perspective. Cambridge, Massachusetts : Harvard University Press, xii, 406 p. : ill., maps.

External links[edit]