Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Nashville Warbler - Leiothlypis ruficapilla
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General Comments The Nashville Warbler, along with the Tennessee Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, and several Western associates, were moved from Vermivora to the hard-to-pronounce Oreothlypis genus in 2010. Confusingly, in 2019 the species was moved again -- to the genus Leiothlypis, just as tricky to pronounce! Nashvilles breed in two separate areas -- the northwestern states, and much of the northeastern states and eastern Canada. It nests south to West Virginia, and almost certainly in western Virginia; thus, a report of a singing bird in the North Carolina mountains in summer 2013 was not a complete surprise. Birders should be aware of, and look for, the species again in the high mountains in upcoming summers. Its primary migratory routes lie to the west of the Appalachians. Thus, it is more familiar to North Carolina birders in the mountains than downstate, but birds do migrate to the coast in fall in small numbers. While in the state, it is found in spring mostly in the canopy of deciduous trees in forests and woodlands; however, in fall it can be found there but also in shrubby thickets and even in weedy fields, where it can be easily confused with Orange-crowned Warblers. And, this confusion extends into early winter, as a few Nashvilles linger through Dec, mainly near and along the coast. In the summer in the Appalachians, it is restricted to areas of spruce and fir, typically in young or stunted stands and along the edges of spruce-fir forests, including the margins of bogs.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank SZ
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Transient, and scarce straggler into early winter. Very rare in spring (essentially avoiding the region), and rare to uncommon (and easily overlooked) in fall. There are a number of early winter records near the coast, but these birds probably do not overwinter, though one was seen on 15 Jan 2022 in Pasquotank. Mainly mid-Apr to mid-May, and mid-Sep to mid-Oct, sparingly to early Jan. One was seen at Pine Island Audubon Sanctuary (Currituck) on 24 Jan 2021. An exceptional record for mid-winter was one seen at the NC Aquarium (New Hanover), from 23 Jan - 2 Feb 2019. Peak counts: 5, Duck (Dare), 14 Oct 2022.
Piedmont Transient, and a very scarce straggler into early winter. In spring, rare in the western and central portions, and very rare in the eastern portion; in fall, uncommon throughout the region. A handful (about 8) of early winter records. Remarkable was one photographed at a bird bath in Cabarrus, 23 Feb 2017. Mainly from late Apr into early May, and early Sep to early Nov, with the majority of reports falling in Sep and early Oct. A few records into early Jan. Unique for the region was one that overwintered at Apex Community Park (Wake), noted often from 7 Jan - 19 Mar 2023. One photographed in Greensboro on 5 Apr 2020 and another seen in Cary (Wake) on 10 Apr 2013 were very early. Peak counts:
Mountains Transient; one recent record of a potential breeding bird. Rare to occasionally uncommon in spring, and uncommon in fall; mainly in the lower and middle elevations. Mainly late Apr to mid-May, and late Aug or early Sep to mid-Oct. One singing bird was noted on Roan Mountain (Mitchell) on 26 Jun 2013. One photographed in southwestern McDowell on 16 Nov 2022 was quite late. One winter record: one photographed at Biltmore Estate (Buncombe) on 12 Dec and on 29 Dec 2022. Peak counts: ?, but a single observer count of 5 at Biltmore Estate on 14 Oct 2020 was a quite high tally.
Finding Tips Pure migrant species can be hard to pin down in time and place, depending on cold fronts in fall, etc. Parks such as Jackson Park in Hendersonville are good places to look for the species. Your chances are better in fall than in spring.
Attribution LeGrand[2024-05-14], LeGrand[2023-05-19], LeGrand[2023-04-03]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.