Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Orange-crowned Warbler - Leiothlypis celata
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General Comments The Orange-crowned Warbler breeds nearly from coast to coast, but essentially in the Western states and the Canadian boreal zone. It is one of the few warblers that winters in large numbers in the United States, and moderate numbers spend the winter in the North Carolina Coastal Plain. With increasingly warm winters in recent years, more birds are surviving the winter even into the eastern and southern Piedmont. It is not as well known to state birders as many warblers, as its plumage is a plain olive or dull greenish (all year), it can be secretive (difficult to see well) in winter, and its identification is often made by its call note, which is a sharp chip that sounds like a Northern Cardinal. Mainly experienced birders make identifications by this call only. While in the state, in winter it favors dense broadleaf evergreen cover of shrubby thickets, wooded borders, marsh edges, and maritime thickets and forests -- though it does come to bird feeders. Migrants typically occur in deciduous forests (often in the canopy) and in thickets.

In 2010, the species was moved from the genus Vermivora to Oreothlypis. However, this species was moved from the genus Oreothlypis to Leiothlypis in June 2019 by the AOS -- a second "change of address" in ten years!

Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank S3N
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Winter resident, and poorly known transient. In winter, fairly common along the coast (i.e., coastal counties) and in the southern and coastal portions of the Tidewater zone. Farther inland, smaller numbers westward, and thus uncommon in most areas, and rare by late winter near the Piedmont. Migration is somewhat imperceptible. Mainly mid-Oct to mid-Apr. Peak counts:
Piedmont Transient, and scarce winter visitor/resident. In migration, generally rare to uncommon (or easily overlooked, as the song is a dull trill that is usually passed over as some other species); slightly more numerous in fall, but even more quiet at that season. Rare to very uncommon but increasing in winter sightings across the region, and some birds now overwinter, especially in the eastern and southern portions. Mainly mid-Oct to late Dec, and late Mar to early May. Peak counts:
Mountains Transient. Rare in both spring and fall in the lower elevations, and very rare above 2,500 feet; as with other regions, it is easily overlooked. Mainly late Mar or early Apr to early May, and early Oct into Nov. Very rare in winter; known records are a female collected near Weaverville (Buncombe) on 15 Jan 1894; one seen at Swannanoa (Buncombe) on 29 Dec 1931; one seen in Henderson on 28 Dec 2003; two on the Franklin (Macon) CBC, 2 Jan 2016; one at Mills River Park (Henderson), 23 Jan 2021; and one at Lake Julian (Buncombe), 17 Feb 2021. Peak counts: 3, Jackson Park (Henderson), 5 Apr 2012; 3, Warren Wilson College (Buncombe), 11 Oct 2014.
Finding Tips You should be able to find the species in a morning along the Lake Mattamuskeet causeway (NC 94) in Nov or Dec, though knowing the call note would help your chances. Fort Macon SP, Carolina Beach SP near the marina, and the Fort Fisher Aquarium area are other good places for them in winter.
Attribution LeGrand[2023-04-03], LeGrand[2021-05-17], LeGrand[2020-04-18]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.