Blackpoll Warbler Setophaga striata Scientific name definitions

William DeLuca, Rebecca Holberton, Pamela D. Hunt, and Bonita C. Eliason
Version: 1.0 — Published March 4, 2020
Text last updated June 4, 2013


Field Identification

Large Setophaga warbler, averaging 14 cm in length and 12–13 g lean body mass.

Adult male in Alternate plumage has top of head black, remainder of head white with black malar stripe; upperparts gray streaked with black, underparts white with bold black streaks on sides and flanks, dark wings with two white wing bars, and a dark tail with bold white tail-spots. Legs and feet dull orange to yellow. Adult female in Alternate plumage more cryptically colored. Upperparts, wings, and tail olive gray to olive green with blackish streaks on crown, nape, and back. Pale superciliary stripe and dark streaking on malar area. Underparts becoming dull whitish, narrowly streaked with black, and sometimes with buffy or yellowish wash. Wings with two white wing-bars, and tail with white tail-spots. Legs and feet dull orange to yellow.

Female plumage extremely variable. In some, top of head very dark, resembling black cap in male. These individuals are typically the grayest, being devoid of buffy or yellow below or greenish above.

Adult male in Basic plumage has upperparts grayish olive variably streaked with black. Underparts whitish, variably washed with yellow on throat, breast, and flanks and narrowly streaked with black on same area. Face with pale yellowish supercilium and dark eye-line. Wings and tail as in Basic plumage, but tertials more extensively edged with white.

Adult female in Basic plumage similar but with reduced density and size of streaking. Immatures similar to adults of their sex but on average duller, often with dark legs (Basic plumage), and streaking reduced (especially in females).

Similar Species

Alternate-plumaged males share black-and-white plumage pattern with Black-and-white Warbler (Mniotilta varia), but are readily distinguished by the combination of an entirely black cap and white cheeks lacking in the latter species.

In Basic plumage, Blackpoll very similar to, and often confused with Basic-plumaged Bay-breasted Warbler (S. castanea). Bay-breasted Warbler usually distinguished by presence of some buff or brownish coloration on the sides and flanks, but immatures (especially females) may lack this field mark. These dull individuals are best distinguished from Blackpolls by a combination of the following characters: Compared with Blackpoll, the undertail-coverts are buffy rather than white or pale yellow, upperparts typically brighter green and less olive, face pattern is plainer with less distinct eye-line, underparts usually without distinct streaking but may show blurred streaks, primaries show less distinct white tips, and the bill is slightly longer and thicker. Leg color is usually pale and yellowish in adult Blackpolls but may be dark in immatures, resembling the dark leg color of Bay-breasted. However, in the Blackpoll, the soles of the feet are always yellow, but gray to yellowish gray in Bay-breasted (Dunn and Garrett 1997).

Blackpoll in Basic plumage also resembles the Pine Warbler (S. pinus), but Pine Warbler has different shape with longer tail (extending well beyond undertail-coverts) and larger bill, unstreaked back, yellower underparts, grayer wing-bars and tertial edges, and usually a dark ear patch framed by pale wedge extending upward at rear of ear coverts.

For more detail on separating these three species, see Kaufman 1990, Curson et al. 1994Hough 1996, and Dunn and Garrett 1997.

Recommended Citation

DeLuca, W., R. Holberton, P. D. Hunt, and B. C. Eliason (2020). Blackpoll Warbler (Setophaga striata), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.bkpwar.01