Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Yellow-rumped Warbler - Setophaga coronata
PARULIDAE Members:
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General Comments The Yellow-rumped Warbler, often called the "Butter-butt", is arguably the most abundant warbler on the continent. The Western half of the species is the "Audubon's Warbler" subspecies (formerly a full species and arguably should be re-split), and the subspecies in the East is the "Myrtle Warbler". The species winters in large numbers in the southern half of the United States, and is (by far) the most numerous warbler wintering in North Carolina. Though numbers along the coast have markedly declined in recent decades (despite little change in habitat), it remains a common to abundant winter bird, often the most common passerine seen on a coastal CBC. Farther inland, it winters in smaller numbers the farther west one goes, and is scarce in midwinter in the mountains. Amazingly, despite "global warming", the species has moved south in the Appalachians as a breeder (since 1985), and a few pairs now nest at several sites in the spruce-fir zone, favoring edges and stunted spruce or fir areas rather than forest interiors. In winter, it favors waxmyrtle thickets, shrubby edges of marshes (with cedar or waxmyrtle), pocosins, swamps, bottomlands, and many other wooded or shrubby areas. It often joins chickadees and titmice in mixed species flocks.

There are over a dozen records of "Audubon's Warblers" in the state, though no records have yet been reported from the mountains. Two have been reviewed and accepted by the NC BRC, one with photos.

Breeding Status Breeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status SR
U.S. Status
State Rank S1B,S5N
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Winter resident. Along the coast and in Tidewater near sounds, abundant in winter, particularly on the Outer Banks. Smaller numbers westward, but common over the remainder of the province, and at times very common in migration. Mainly late Sep to early May; a few Jun, Jul, and Aug records. Peak counts:

The 8+ known reports -- at least since 1980 -- of "Audubon's Warbler" are: one seen at Sanderling (Dare) on 19 Jan 2020 [Chat 84:56-72 link]; one seen at Alligator River NWR (Dare) on 9 Nov 2007 [Chat 72:21-39 link]; a male in breeding plumage at Merchants Millpond SP (Gates) on 21 Apr 2007* [Chat 72:7-10 link] -- reviewed and accepted by the NC BRC; a female seen at the Frisco (Dare) airstrip on 19 Jan 2003 [Chat 67:60-75 link]; one among hordes of "Myrtle" Warblers on the Cape Hatteras (Dare) CBC on 27 Dec 2001 [Chat 66:94-104 link]; one at Lake Mattamuskeet (Hyde) on 15 Jan 2000 [Chat 64:100-109 link]; a "female with a very obvious, bright yellow throat" was seen in Edgecombe on 25 Apr 1993 [Chat 58:58-68 link]; a male in partial breeding plumage -- "yellow throat above black breast; more black on head than other Yellow-rumps in flock; bright yellow rump" seen at Wilmington (New Hanover) on 11 Apr 1986 [Chat 51:52-56 link].

Piedmont Winter resident, with noticeable migratory movements. In winter, common in the southeastern half, and fairly common in the northwestern portion, but can be scarce in the foothills by midwinter. May be very common in migration in spring and fall across the region. Mainly late Sep to early or mid-May. One in southern Union on 6 Jul 2021 was completely out of season. Peak counts:

There are about 5 records of "Audubon's Warbler", though 3 refer to the same bird seen in a Chapel Hill yard for three consecutive winters. The records since 1980 are: a male in breeding plumage at Cary (Wake) on 24 Apr 2010 [Chat 74:82-96 link]; a female at a yard in Chapel Hill (Orange) on 15 and 29 Oct 2006 [Chat 71:12-28 link]; one at the same Chapel Hill feeder was noted for a week or more from 24 Jan 2006 on [Chat 70:44-58 link]; one noted at Cane Creek Park (Union) on 8 Dec 2005 [Chat 70:44-58 link]; at the same Chapel Hill feeder on 18-19 Jan 2005* [Chat 69:73-87 link] -- photos accepted by the NC BRC.

Mountains Very sparse (and recent) breeder, widespread transient, and winter resident/visitor. In summer, rare (though increasing) at the highest elevations, in the spruce-fir zone; one to three pairs have recently been present (and confirmed as breeders) at Roan Mountain, at Mount Mitchell SP, and in the Great Smoky Mountains NP (at Clingmans Dome and Mount Kephart). Also numerous recent summer records along Black Balsam Road in southern Haywood, suggestive of breeding there. Finally found at Grandfather Mountain in the breeding season on several dates in Jun 2014. Apparently first noted in summer at Richland Balsam (Haywood/Jackson) on 3 Jul 2020 -- male and female seen. Increases were noted in 2018 at several sites, with an excellent six singing males at Clingmans Dome on 7 Jun and four along Black Balsam Road throughout the summer. In spring, a common migrant over the lower and middle elevations, less numerous in higher elevations. In fall, fairly common throughout. In winter, mainly uncommon in the lower elevations (below 3,000 feet), and rare higher; can be very scarce by late winter. Mainly late Sep to early or mid-May. Peak counts:

There are no records of "Audubon's Warblers" from the region.

Finding Tips None needed near the coast in winter.
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Attribution LeGrand[2021-11-07], LeGrand[2021-03-07], LeGrand[2020-10-21]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.
NC Breeding Season Map
Map depicts assumed breeding season abundance for the species.