Leiothlypis ruficapilla ruficapilla

Status:  Common regular spring and fall migrant east, uncommon central, rare west.

Documentation:  Specimen: ruficapilla, UNSM ZM6804, 4 May 1904 Falls City, Richardson Co.

Taxonomy:  Two subspecies are recognized (Pyle 1997): ridgwayi, breeding from southern British Columbia to northwest Montana and south-central California, and ruficapilla, breeding from Manitoba to Newfoundland to montane Wyoming.

Only the eastern subspecies ruficapilla had been documented in Nebraska; it comprises the vast majority of Nebraska migrant Nashville Warblers. The western subspecies ridgwayi (“Calaveras Warbler”) may occur during migration, however, especially in fall. It differs in having a brighter yellow rump and breast, and a habit of pumping its tail, a habit usually not shared by ruficapilla (Dunn and Garrett 1997). Of 13 Panhandle reports of Nashville Warbler, one may be of ridgwayi: 14 Oct 2000 at Clear Creek WMA, Garden Co “extensive white underparts and constant tail pumping” (Stephen J. Dinsmore, pers. comm.). See Comments.

Spring:  Apr 26, 26, 27 <<<>>> May 30, 30, 31

Earlier dates are 21 Apr 2017 Douglas Co, 23 Apr 2018 Saline Co, and 24 Apr 2019 Lancaster Co.

Later dates are 4 Jun 2017 Sowbelly Canyon, Sioux Co, 9 Jun 1917 specimen, HMM 2601, Inland, Clay Co  (Swenk, Notes Before 1925), and Carriker reportedly shot a female with well-formed eggs in her ovary near Nebraska City, Otoe Co 11 Jun 1900 (Bruner et al 1904). See Comments.

Migration occurs between late Apr and late May.

There are few Panhandle reports: 8 May 2020 Gordon, Sheridan Co, 12 May 2019 Dawes Co, 16 May 2010 Dawes Co, 22 May 2021 Cheyenne Co, 26 May 2021 Sioux Co, 28 May 2011 Kimball City Park, Kimball, Kimball Co, and 31 May 2011 Bushnell Cemetery, Kimball Co.

  • High counts:  54 in Sarpy Co 13 May 1995, 18 at Wilderness Park, Lancaster Co 8 May 2020, 13 at Indian Cave SP,  Nemaha Co 11 May 2020, 12 at Hormel Park, Fremont, Dodge Co 5 May 1999, 12 at Wilderness Park, Lancaster Co 11 May 2018, and 12 there 10 May 2021.

Fall:  Aug 17, 17, 18 <<<>>> Oct 26, 28, 29

Later dates are 10 Nov 2011 Keith Co, 20 Nov 2018 Lancaster Co, 27 Nov 2006 southeast Sioux Co, and an extraordinary report of up to three birds seen together in Omaha, Douglas Co 18-20 Dec 1993 (Grzybowski 1994).

Migration is from late Aug through late Oct, peaking mid-late Sep, rather late for a wood-warbler.

There are 25 fall Panhandle reports in the period 18 Aug-12 Oct, four likely of ridgwayi (see Comments), with a very late record 27 Nov 2006 southeast Sioux Co.

  • High counts:  60 at Fontenelle Forest, Sarpy Co 27 Sep 2008, 60 at Wyuka Cemetery, Lancaster Co 26 Sep 2017, and 50+ at Ponca SP, Dixon Co 18 Sep 2010.

Comments: There are no documented breeding records. Reports of breeding in the east (Ducey 1988) are likely in error, as suggested by Johnsgard (1980). Aughey (1878) was said to have found a young bird newly fledged on 10 Jun 1865, questioned by Sharpe (1993). Bent (1953) stated that it was “reported to breed in northeastern Nebraska but no specific records,” presumably a reference to Aughey’s list. A nesting report from Webster Co for 1961 (Wensien 1962) was probably referable to the unlisted therein Yellow Warbler.

There are about six sightings of claimed “Calaveras Warbler”, subspecies ridgwayi. More likely in the west, the following by experienced observers may have been ridgwayi: 20 Aug 2006 Keith Co, 2 Oct 1999 Oliver Reservoir, Kimball Co, 7 Oct 2003 Chadron, Dawes Co, and 14 Oct 2000 Clear Creek WMA, Garden Co. At least three sightings of a birds identified as ridgwayi were reported from Wilderness Park, Lincoln, Lancaster Co 23 Sep-3 Oct 2015 and 13 and 20 Oct 2017; video was taken along with descriptions, but the reports, based mostly on tail-wagging and plumage, were equivocal.

The status of ridgwayi in Nebraska deserves additional attention, since it is one of the taxa that breed in the Pacific Northwest and migrants of which occur east of the Rockies in fall (Townsend’s Warbler, Cassin’s Vireo, subspecies of Hermit Thrush).


HMM: Hastings Municipal Museum
SP: State Park
UNSM: University of Nebraska State Museum
WMA: Wildlife Management Area (State)


Photograph (top) of a Nashville Warbler at Fontenelle Forest, Sarpy Co 2 Oct 2008 by Phil Swanson.

Literature Cited

Aughey, S. 1878. Notes on the nature of the food of the birds of Nebraska. 1878 Report of the United States Entomological Commission. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.

Bent, A.C. 1953. Life histories of North American Wood Warblers. Bulletin of the United States National Museum 203. Two Parts.  Dover Publications Reprint 1963, New York, New York, USA.

Bruner, L., R.H. Wolcott, and M.H. Swenk. 1904. A preliminary review of the birds of Nebraska, with synopses. Klopp and Bartlett, Omaha, Nebraska, USA.

Ducey, J.E. 1988. Nebraska birds, breeding status and distribution. Simmons-Boardman Books, Omaha, Nebraska, USA.

Dunn, J.L., and K.L. Garrett. 1997. A field guide to warblers of North America. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.

Grzybowski, J.A. 1994. Southern Great Plains Region. American Birds 48: 222-223.

Johnsgard, P. A. 1980. A preliminary list of the birds of Nebraska and adjacent Great Plains states. Published by the author, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, USA.

Pyle, P. 1997. Identification Guide to North American Birds. Part I, Columbidae to Ploceidae. Slate Creek Press, Bolinas, California, USA.

Sharpe, R.S. 1993. Samuel Aughey’s list of Nebraska birds (1878): a critical evaluation. NBR 61: 3-10.

Swenk, M.H. Notes before 1925. Bird notes from A.M. Brooking of Hastings, C.A. Black of Kearney, and B.J. Olson of Kearney, based chiefly on their collections, up to January 1, 1925. Typed manuscript in the Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union Archives, University of Nebraska State Museum, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.

Wensien, R. 1962. Nesting report, 1961. NBR 30: 24-25.

Recommended Citation

Silcock, W.R., and J.G. Jorgensen.  2021.  Nashville Warbler (Oreothlypis ruficapilla). In Birds of Nebraska — Online.

Birds of Nebraska – Online

Updated 12 Jun 2021