A practical guide to bird watching in Sonoma County, California

(Unless otherwise indicated, all phone numbers are in the 707 area code)


Uncommon but regular in Sonoma County. Migrating population passes through mostly in April and May (heading north) and in September through early November (heading south). Wintering birds are by no means common, but they are reported regularly along the coast, mostly in the Bodega Bay area, notably in the trees below the elevated parking deck at Diekmann’s Bay Store. Probably an occasional county breeder. There were no confirmed Sonoma County breeding records as of the 1995 Breeding Bird Atlas, but at least one probable nesting pair is noted in that book. Active forager, especially on tips of small branches. Two distinct breeding populations exist, one on either side of the Rocky Mountains.

A smallish, plump warbler with pale grey crown, cheeks, nape, and upper back, sometimes tending toward a bluish-grey; distinct, complete, white eyering; olive to greyish-olive on back, wings, rump, and tail; no wingbars; yellow throat, breast, belly, flanks, and vent--thus, all yellow underneath except for a variable white patch at the base of the legs--more extensive in some birds than others. Often paler at the throat. Rusty patch on crown most often not visible (often ignored in field guides). Plumage variable; some birds quite brightly colored, others more drab.

In our area, most likely to be confused with subspecies of Orange-crowned Warbler (Oreothlypis celata) that have a hooded look, but Orange-crowned Warbler has a more slender, elongated shape. It has a less sharply contrasting eyering, which, importantly, is split laterally. A pale yellowish or whitish supercilium, or eyebrow, coupled with a faint eyeline give the face of an Orange-crowned warbler a vaguely horizontally striped look, whereas the Nashville Warbler’s eyering is always complete and sharply contrasting from the plain grey of the face; Nashville lacks the supercilium and eyeline. Overall, Orange-crowned warbler is a dull grey-olive with few other distinguishing markings aside from the facial characteristics described above--although paler underneath and typically with some faint streaking on the breast. Its orange crown feathers are rarely exposed. Doubtful birds usually turn out to be Orange-crowned Warblers simply because that species is so much more common in Sonoma County than is Nashville Warbler.               

Selected county sightings: Diekmann’s Store (10/26/15, Colin Talcroft); Diekmann’s Store (1/16-17/15, Colin Talcroft), Diekmann’s Store (12/31/14, Dea Freid); Diekmann’s Store (10/31/14, Scott Carey); 10/12/14 (Owl Canyon, Dea Freid); Doran Beach entry area (8/24/14, Dea Freid); Pine Flat Rd. (4/23/14, Logan Kahle); Pine Flat Rd. (4/21/14, Denise and David Hamilton); Diekmann’s Store (3/24/14, Bruce Mast); Diekmann’s Store (2/15/14, Chris Dunford); Diekmann’s Store (1/6/14, Denise Herzberg)

Older sources will put this bird in the genus Vermivora as Vermivora ruficapilla. Listed in some European sources as Leiothlypis ruficapilla, a newer designation not everywhere accepted.

English synonyms: Calaveras Warbler, Gray-headed Warbler (neither used in Sonoma County)

Nashville Warbler in other languages--German: Rubinfleck-Waldsänger; Spanish: Chipe de Cabeza Gris, Chipe de Coronilla, Chipe de Nashville, Chipe gorrigris, Ciguíta de Nashville, Reinita Cachetigrís, Reinita de Nashville; French: Fauvette à joues grises, Paruline à joues grises; Russian: Красношапочный пеночковый певун; Chinese: 黄喉虫森莺; Japanese: ズアカアメリカムシクイ(zuakaamerikamushikui)

(Language information from Avibase, Birds of Europe (Mullarney et al, Princeton Field Guide Series), and Birds of Asia (Mark Brazil, Princeton Field Guide Series).

Further reading:

Bolander and Parmeter, Birds of Sonoma County California, rev. ed., 2000, p. 102

Brinkley, National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2007, p. 365

Burridge, ed., Sonoma County Breeding Bird Atlas, 1995, p. 145

Curson, Quinn, and Beadle, Warblers of the Americas, 1994, pp. 24-25, 102-103

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 5th ed., 2006, p. 378

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 6th ed., 2011, p. 426

Dunn and Garrett, Warblers: Peterson Field Guides, 1st ed., 1997, pp. 166-174, pl. 5 (spanning pp. 52-53)

Dunne, Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion, 2006, p. 529-530

Ehrlich, Dobkin, and Wheye, The Birder's Handbook, paperback edition, 1988, p. 506

Fix and Bezener, Birds of Northern California, 2000, p. 312

Floyd, Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 2008, p. 381

Kaufman, Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2000, p. 312

Kaufman, Advanced Birding, 1990, pp. 229-232 (general notes on warbler ID), p. 229, 244

Kaufman, Field Guide to Advanced Birding, 2011, pp. 390-411 (general notes on warbler ID), pp. 393, 398, 410, 411

Lukas, Bay Area Birds: From Sonoma County to Monterey Bay, 2012, p. 297

Parmeter and Wight, Birds of Sonoma County California, Update (2000-2010), 2012, p. 62

Peterson, Birds of Eastern and Central North America, 5th ed., 2002, p. 274

Peterson, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America, 4th ed., 2010, p. 304

Peterson, Western Birds, 3rd ed., 1990,  p. 298

Sibley, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America,1st ed., 2003, p. 368

Stephenson and Whittle, The Warbler Guide, 2013, pp. 360-365

Stokes, Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 1st ed., 2010, p. 595

Stokes, Stokes Field Guide to Warblers, 2004, pp. 58-59

Vuilleumier, American Museum of Natural History, Birds of North America: Western Region, 2011, p. 349

Voice: Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds--Nashville Warbler



© Colin Talcroft, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015

Unless noted, all photos by the author. If you would like to use one of my images, please ask for permission for non-commercial use with proper credit or commercial use with proper compensation.


Nashville Warbler, Diekmann’s Store, Bodega Bay, January 17, 2015

Nashville Warbler

Oreothlypis  ruficapilla

1990-2014 Sonoma County data. Graph provided by eBird (www.ebird.org), generated January 17, 2015

EBird reported occurrence in Sonoma County

For comparison: Orange-crowned Warbler--One of the grey-headed subspecies. This is the bird mostly likely to be confused with Nashville Warbler, but note the broken eyering and the faint eyeline here.

Diekmann’s Store, Bodega Bay, February 13, 2013

For comparison: A more typical Orange-crowned Warbler

Owl Canyon, Bodega Bay, October 5, 2013

Nashville Warbler, Diekmann’s Store, Bodega Bay, October 26, 2015