How to Attract Warblers (And What to Avoid)

If you want to know how to attract warblers, this guide is for you.

Warblers need an insect-friendly yard and plenty of hiding spots. By the end of this article, you’ll know:

  • How to provide the necessary food sources, shelter, and nesting sites for attracting warblers
  • Which trees and shrubs can help you create a warbler-friendly habitat
  • How to avoid common mistakes in trying to attract these charming birds

Read on to find out how to create a warbler paradise in your yard!

Warbler Types

blackburnian warbler looking up while perched on a branch

Warblers are a group of small, often colorful songbirds that can be found throughout North America. These birds are known for their beautiful singsong melodies and their impressive migration habits.

The warbler family is actually quite varied, with species that include:

  • Yellow Warbler
  • Prothonotary Warbler
  • Yellow-Rumped Warbler
  • Blackburnian Warbler
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • Hooded Warbler
  • Cape May Warbler
  • Tennessee Warbler
  • American Redstart
  • Canada Warbler
  • Northern Parula
  • Palm Warbler
  • Magnolia Warbler
  • Black-Throated Blue Warbler

While they share some common traits, each species has its own unique characteristics.

Read Next: How to Attract Western Tanagers

Quick Warbler Facts

  • Diet: Most warblers are insectivorous, which means they primarily feed on insects. This plays a significant role in their migratory patterns, as they travel long distances in search of plentiful food sources.
  • Habitat: When it comes to habitat, warblers can be observed in various environments ranging from forests and wetlands to meadows and backyards. These birds are also particularly drawn to moving water sources, such as streams, waterfalls, or fountains, as they provide both a place to drink and bathe.
  • Personality: Warblers are known to be secretive and shy, so having plenty of vegetation and hiding spots can make them feel more at ease.

How to Attract Warblers with Food

swallowtail butterfly caterpillar climbing a fennel plant

If you’re trying to attract warblers to your yard, you need to cater to their food preferences.

While they have diverse diets, there are a few common food items that many warblers find appealing.

Have an Insect-Friendly Yard

Warblers primarily rely on insects and caterpillars as their primary food source. This is why creating an insect-friendly environment that these birds will love is key.

You can do this by minimizing or eliminating insecticide use and providing ample foliage.

Another key tip is to spruce up your yard with native plants, shrubs, and a diversity of trees that support a teeming insect population.

Certain tree species, like oaks, willows, and poplars, are particularly rich in insects and caterpillars, making them ideal for warbler habitat.

Provide Nectar Sources

Although not a major part of their diet, some warblers may occasionally consume nectar. This can explain why you may have seen a rogue warbler or two at your hummingbird feeders.

So, planting flowering plants with plenty of nectar or setting up nectar feeders can help attract these birds to your home.

Plant Berry Bushes

Though relatively minor in their diet, berries and fruit are another source of sustenance for warblers.

If you love warblers, consider planting berry bushes or fruit trees to provide an additional food source. Popular choices include jelly, oranges, and grapes.

Offer Peanut Butter, Suet, and Mealworms

While not traditionally part of a warbler’s diet, suet, peanut butter, and mealworms can help you attract these birds.

This is especially true during the cooler months when insects are scarce.

Setting Up Feeders for Warblers

pine warbler bird on a suet feeder

Setting up the right bird feeders is crucial when trying to attract warblers. These beautiful songbirds often have specific needs that may differ from other backyard bird species.

Below, we’ll cover the necessary aspects of selecting the right feeders and properly maintaining them to maximize your chances of attracting these birds.

Selecting the Right Bird Feeders

When looking for bird feeders that will attract warblers, consider a few important factors:

  • Types of feeders: A suet feeder is highly suitable for warblers due to their preference for insects and insect-based foods. Suet feeders provide these high-energy, fatty foods that appeal to warblers during the colder months. Also, think about having a nectar feeder for an additional supply of nutrition for the various warbler species that enjoy it.
  • Placement: Warblers are often found in the higher branches of trees. Place your feeders near shrubbery or dense foliage, where the birds feel secure and protected. Warblers appreciate sheltered areas and may not feel comfortable eating from exposed feeders.
  • Food: Warblers enjoy eating caterpillars and insects, so offer suet cakes with insect-like ingredients. You can also provide mealworms or small fruit pieces to attract a variety of warbler species.

Cleaning and Maintenance Tips

Properly caring for your bird feeders ensures the long-term health and well-being of your visiting warblers. Follow these guidelines for keeping your feeders in top shape:

  • Frequency: Clean your bird feeders at least once every two weeks. Warblers, like other songbirds, are susceptible to diseases transmitted through dirty feeders.
  • Mild Solutions: Use a solution of warm water and mild dish soap to clean your feeders. Avoid harsh chemicals, as they can harm the birds or deter them from using the feeder.
  • Scrubbing: Use a stiff brush to remove any leftover food, debris, or bird droppings from the feeder. Rinse the feeder thoroughly with water to ensure all soap residue is removed.

Best Trees and Shrubs for Attracting Warblers

yellow throated warbler bird on an oak tree branch

Native Trees and Shrubs

When it comes to getting more warbler visitors, selecting the right trees and shrubs is a major help.

Native trees play a significant role in providing a natural habitat that is familiar to these birds. The presence of native trees encourages the growth of insects, which are the main food source for most warbler species.

Oak Trees

One excellent choice for attracting warblers is the oak tree. According to entomologist Douglas Tallamy’s research, oak trees host more than 550 species of butterfly and moth caterpillars, making them a prime source of food for these birds.

Oaks also support many other arthropod species, such as ants, bees, beetles, aphids, sawflies, and leafhoppers.


Eastern hemlock and eastern white pine are two more native tree species that can help attract warblers. These trees provide excellent nesting sites and cover for these birds while also supporting a variety of insects.

Planting a mix of these native trees will help create a suitable environment for warblers to thrive.

Native Shrubs

Aside from trees, native shrubs also play an essential role in luring warblers to your garden. Willow trees, for example, provide dense foliage and support a multitude of insects, making them an appealing option.

Beyond this, adding other shrubs such as pokeweed and Virginia creeper can add diversity to the habitat and further attract these tiny songbirds.

Moss, Lichen, and Twigs

To create a more intricate habitat, you can also include moss, lichen, and twigs in your garden, as these elements provide additional cover and nesting materials for warblers.

As you focus on native trees and shrubs, you not only create a suitable environment for these birds, but you also contribute to the overall health of the local ecosystem.

How to Create a Warbler-Friendly Habitat

yellow warbler bird wet from bathing in a blue bowl filled with water

Provide Water Sources

  • Accessible water sources: One essential element in creating a warbler-friendly habitat is providing a clean and accessible water source.
  • Shallow water dishes: Bird baths and shallow water dishes are perfect for warblers as they could easily bathe and drink. Remember to keep the dishes shallow, as warblers prefer water that’s about an inch deep.
  • Keep it clean: To keep the water fresh, change it regularly and clean the dishes to avoid possible contamination!
  • Add bird bath features: Also, consider adding a bird bath with a drip or mist system to create an appealing feature for these songbirds.

Offer Shelter and Nesting Materials

  • Mix and match plant offerings: Warblers are attracted to areas with dense plantings, including a mix of deciduous trees, shrubs, and groundcovers that provide them with shelter and nesting sites. In addition to trees and shrubs, you may also incorporate wildflowers, berry-producing plants, and other natural materials to provide both food and nesting materials for warblers.
  • Layer plant heights: Add layers of different plant heights to create multiple foraging areas for these shy birds.
  • Birdhouses: Installing birdhouses and nest boxes could also encourage breeding and nesting. However, since warblers can be quite selective, you should research the specific species you want to attract and customize your birdhouses accordingly.
  • Give them hiding spots: To further enhance shelter options, include thickets, brush piles, and other natural hiding spots around your yard, especially near water sources. These areas can act as a refuge from predators and provide an additional sense of security for warblers.

How to Avoid Common Mistakes

When trying to attract warblers to your yard, there are a few common mistakes to avoid.

The good news is, if you address these issues head-on, you can create a more welcoming environment for these beautiful birds.

Using Pesticides

One big mistake to avoid is the use of pesticides in your garden. Warblers are insect-eating birds, and the use of chemicals can significantly reduce their food source.

To keep a healthy population of insects available for warblers, consider using natural pest control methods instead, such as:

  • Planting insect-repelling plants like marigolds or basil
  • Introducing beneficial insects like ladybugs or praying mantises
  • Hand-picking large pests, such as caterpillars or beetles

Reducing pesticide use and promoting natural pest control methods will help create a more hospitable environment for warblers to thrive.

Chasing Away Predators

Another mistake people often make is trying to eliminate predators from their yards.

While it’s natural to want to protect the warblers you’re trying to attract, removing predators can have unintended consequences for the ecosystem.

Many predators, such as hawks, owls, or even snakes, can help control the population of rodents and other larger pests. A balanced ecosystem is important for maintaining a healthy environment for all wildlife, including warblers.

But if you’re worried about it, a good strategy is to focus on providing plenty of cover and shelter for the warblers.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Plant dense shrubs or bushes for hiding spots
  • Provide birdhouses or nesting boxes away from predator-prone areas
  • Install protective measures like bird feeder baffles to deter squirrels and other potential threats

With a little bit of planning, you can avoid these common missteps and create a safer, more welcoming home for warblers and other birds in your yard.

Attracting Warblers During Migration Season

male yellow rumped warbler on a branch

Signs of Migration

Warbler migration season typically occurs in spring, throughout North America. During this time, numerous species of these small and colorful songbirds make their way to breeding grounds, providing unique sightings opportunities for birdwatchers.

As the migration season progresses, you may start noticing various warbler species, such as Palm Warblers, Hooded Warblers, Tennessee Warblers, and Magnolia Warblers. These birds generally appear in areas from Oregon to Florida, depending on the specific species and migration patterns.

To attract these beautiful songbirds during migration, consider implementing the following strategies:

  1. Choose native plants: Planting native trees, shrubs, and flowers helps create a more natural habitat for warblers and various other bird species. Native plants can provide shelter, food sources, and nesting materials for warblers, enhancing the chances of enticing them. You can use the Audubon’s native plants database to find suitable plants in your region.
  2. Create insect-friendly spaces: Remember, warblers primarily feed on insects. So, fostering an insect-friendly environment in your garden can also lure in warblers. Some tips include avoiding the use of pesticides, planting diverse plant species, and maintaining a relatively untamed garden area.
  3. Provide water sources: All birds need water to drink and bathe, and warblers are not an exception. Add a bird bath or a small fountain to your garden to encourage these birds to visit. Moving water, such as that in a fountain, is particularly attractive to warblers.
  4. Seek out local birding hotspots: During migration season, specific locations throughout North America become well-known hotspots for warbler sightings. Some popular warbler hotspots include Magee Marsh in Ohio and other regions with densely forested areas or wetlands.

By applying these strategies and keeping an eye out for signs of migration, you should have a better chance of attracting, observing, and enjoying warblers during the migration season!

Frequently Asked Questions

What types of feeders do warblers prefer?

Warblers are not typically attracted to traditional bird feeders since they primarily feed on insects. However, they may be drawn to suet feeders during the winter and early spring, when insects are scarce and they require an extra energy boost.

Which plants are most likely to attract warblers?

For a better chance at attracting warblers, plant native trees and shrubs that support insect populations. Oak trees, for example, host a variety of insects that warblers eat. Additionally, planting wild berries might help draw warblers closer during migration.

What food sources are best for warblers in the wild?

In their natural habitat, warblers feed mainly on insects, so a yard that supports insect life will be more likely to attract these birds. Focus on creating a diverse, natural environment that fosters a healthy insect population, which in turn provides a food source for warblers.

How does providing shelter help attract warblers?

Warblers are often found in wooded areas, so mimicking this environment by incorporating native plants, bushes, and trees in your backyard can help provide shelter for warblers and other birds. These natural features can also support insects that serve as food for warblers.

Are there specific birdhouse designs that appeal to warblers?

Most warblers are not cavity-nesters, meaning they do not usually use birdhouses. However, providing appropriate shelter in the form of vegetation and natural landscape features can help increase the likelihood of warblers visiting your yard.

What environmental factors should be considered to draw warblers to your yard?

Warblers are attracted to the sound of water, so incorporating a birdbath or a water feature with moving water can increase their interest in your yard. Additionally, ensure that your outdoor space promotes insect habitation, as this plays a crucial role in attracting warblers to your backyard.

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