Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Tennessee Warbler - Leiothlypis peregrina
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General Comments In 2010, the American Ornithologists' Union moved several warblers out of the genus Vermivora, which remains the genus for Golden-winged and Blue-winged warblers. However, this species was moved from the genus Oreothlypis in June 2019 by the AOS -- a second "change of address" in ten years! This is a classic breeding songbird of the boreal forests of Canada, barely nesting south to the northeastern states. It winters completely south of the states; thus, this is one of the relatively few songbirds in the East that are actually "pure migrants" in North Carolina, though there are just a few confirmed winter records for the state. Thankfully, it can hardly be missed in fall in the mountains, when it can be the most common bird in mixed-species flocks; a few dozen can be seen in a day, and at times even 100 or more can be seen in a good day after a cold front. However, in spring the bulk of the birds move northward to the west of the Appalachians. Though it nests in spruce-fir stands, it is usually found with other warblers in hardwood forests and woodlots during migration.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank SZ
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Transient. In spring, very rare in the region (about 12 reports -- 3 in 2021). In fall, generally uncommon over most of the region, but rare near the coast. Mainly early to mid-May, and early Sep to late Oct. Two photograph-documented winter records: Mattamuskeet NWR (Hyde) on 13 Dec 2020, and at a feeder in New Bern (Craven) from 3-15 Feb 2021. Peak counts:
Piedmont Transient. In spring, very rare to rare in the eastern portion, and rare farther west. In fall, fairly common in the western portion, but uncommon over the central and eastern portions. Mainly mid- or late Apr to mid-May, and late Aug to late Oct. One reported on 27 Nov was extremely late. Six winter records: one was mist-netted and collected at Durham on 15 Feb 1967, the specimen corroborated by U.S. National Museum staff (Auk 85:499); one was photographed at Hillsborough, Orange, 24 Dec 2012* [Chat 77:6-10 link] [Chat 77:62 link]; one photographed in Cary (Wake), 20 Jan 2020 [Chat 84:70 link]; one photographed at a Charlotte feeder, 27-29 Jan 2021; one photographed at a feeder south of Raleigh on 19 Feb 2021; and one photographed at a feeder in Gaston, 14 Feb into Mar 2024. Peak counts:
Mountains Transient. In spring, rare to uncommon, mainly in valleys and elsewhere below about 3,500 feet. In fall, common over the region, at nearly all elevations; can be very common a day after a cold front, at higher elevations. Mainly late Apr to early May, and mid-Aug through Oct. One at Mills River (Henderson) on 2 Dec 2006 was an extremely late fall migrant [Chat 71:48 link]. Peak counts: "thousands", Great Smoky Mountains NP, 7 Sep 2002; 500, Blue Ridge Junction Overlook along the Blue Ridge Parkway, 21 Sep 2003.
Finding Tips The species is difficult to miss on a day of birding in the mountains during much of September, such as at overlooks along the Blue Ridge Parkway (below the spruce-fir zone).
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Attribution LeGrand[2024-05-14], LeGrand[2023-04-03], LeGrand[2021-09-04]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
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