Magnolia Warbler? – very late migration date

There was no chance of  a photograph of this sighting, even if I had carried a camera! I knew immediately from the black ‘necklace’ on yellow underparts that the skittish warbler that briefly appeared in the top of a low tree in Santa Cruz was either a Canada Warbler (Cardellina canadenis) or a Magnolia Warbler (Setophaga magnolia).  Unfortunately, I have only limited familiarity with either of these species, both of which are migrants in Costa Rica. I managed a view of only about 15 seconds before the bird disappeared.

Of the two species, the Canada Warbler is much the more common here in Costa Rica, and it also tends to migrate a little later than the Magnolia Warbler. The Canada Warbler, however, has plain grey upper parts, while my bird, even from the brief view, clearly had some white both on the wings and on the head. I was able to see the tail, two-tone with the final half in black, only from below. I therefore incline towards the Magnolia Warbler.

This would be a late sighting for either of the two species. The latest Magnolia on record for our area on the eBird database is mid-April , while the latest for the Canada Warbler is early May. My own local sightings, only two in 2010, of the Magnolia Warbler are from down below at CATIE, while I have seen the Canada Warbler here close to home on the Turrialba Volcano slope with some frequency.

In retrospect I insert a photo of a Canada Warbler, taken at nearby Aquiares.

Warbler, Canada, male, Aquiares

Inquisitive male Canada Warbler in migration in September 2017; photo by John Beer


Common sense speaks then for the Canada Warbler, but I must exclude it because of the white that I briefly saw on wings and head. Retrospect always brings doubts, and I will perhaps never be absolutely sure.

Friend and lumberjack Larry Waddell came up with this shot (which I retrospectively insert) of a Magnolia Warbler, already back on its breeding grounds in Minnesota on May 19, 2018:

Magnolia Warbler

Male Magnolia Warbler, Minnesota, courtesy of Larry Waddell

Larry seems to find this species in Minnesota summers with some regularity. Here’s the first pic he ever sent me of one, taken in July 2017:

Magnolia Warbler Minn

Magnolia Warbler displaying white wing patch and breast streaks

Best thanks, Larry!



5 thoughts on “Magnolia Warbler? – very late migration date

  1. The magnolia is one of my favorites and I have been waiting for their return. If this guy was still hanging around down there, I may still have a little wait before they start arriving here. Sent him on up would you please!


      • Jeff, when I open old posts I frequently add photos of the relevant species if I have since acquired them. I am not a photographer and mostly do not have photos of the birds taken on the day I see them. Luckily my friends John and Larry supply photos from trips we take together or give me permission to use any other appropriate shots that they’ve taken. My blog would get little attention, I fear, if there were no accompanying photos.


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