Prairie warbler
Dendroica discolor
ITIS Species Code:   178918         NatureServ Element Code:   ABPBX03190
NatureServe Global Rank: 
NatureServe State (NC) Rank: 
Federal Status: 
NC State Status: 
Southern Blue Ridge:  22 Southern Piedmont:  23 South Atl. Coastal Plain:  25
Land Unit

US Fish & Wildlife Service
US Forest Service
US National Park Service
US Department of Defense
NC State Parks
NC University System
NC Wildlife Res. Com.
NC Forest Service
NC Div. of Coastal Mgmt.
Local Governments
Non-Governmental Org.
Other Public Lands
Private Lands

GAP Status 1-2
All Protected Lands




% of Dist. on
Prot. Lands

4.5 %
20.8 %
39.0 %
5.5 %
2.7 %
3.4 %
17.0 %
3.0 %
0.2 %
2.2 %
2.2 %
0.7 %
< 0.1 %

20.0 %
% of Dist. on
All Lands

0.2 %
0.9 %
1.8 %
0.2 %
0.1 %
0.2 %
0.8 %
0.1 %
< 0.1 %
< 0.1 %
0.1 %
< 0.1 %
95.4 %

0.9 %
Occurs throughout the state from the lower altitudes of the mountain region east to the barrier islands (Fussell 1994, Fussell and Lyons 1990, Potter et al. 1980, Price et al. 1995, Stupka 1963)

Prairie Warblers are always associated with deciduous or mixed successional habaitats such as open hillsides (Stupka 1963), brushy fields (Simpson 1992), thickets, second growth clearings (Potter et al. 1980), forests edges (Ehrlich et al. 1988), power line cuts, abandoned orchards, or reclaimed strip mine sites (Dunn and Garrett 1997). Especially on the coastal plain, inhabits young pine forests with brushy cover (Fussell 1994). Other likely habitats on the coastal plain are dune vegetation, ridgetops, cliff edges, and open pine and oak barrens, preferably on dry upland slopes with sandy soil. Avoids forests with closed canopies (Dunn and Garrett 1997).

The nest is built about 4 feet from the ground (ranges 1-10 feet) in a bush or sapling (Griscom and Sprunt 1957). The nest is placed on a horizontal or diagonal limb, in a fork, or against the trunk, and rarely in a tangle of vines (Ehrlich et al. 1988, Nicholson 1997).


BREEDING: Brushy second growth, dry scrub, low pine-juniper, mangroves, pine barrens, burned-over areas, sproutlands. Small patches of habitat may be suitable for breeding. Subspecies DISCOLOR primarily inhabits various types of shrubby vegetation: brushy second growth, dry scrub, low pine-juniper, jack pine stands, pine barrens, coastal pine subclimax, christmas tree farms, burned-over or cut-over areas, sproutlands, grassland-forest ecotone, powerline corridors, inner forest of Great Dismal Swamp, corridors in hardwood swamps, revegetating strip-mined lands, overgrown apple orchards, and abandoned fields in the breeding season. Many of these habitats are early successional and are suitable beginning about 5 years after burning or clearing and continuing for about 10-20 years.

Nests usually in a shrub, sapling, thicket, or fern clump, usually 0.3-3 m above ground, occasionally higher (Harrison 1978). In western Massachusetts powerline corridors, nests were 1-3 m above ground in vegetation clumps (1-10 m in diameter) of scrub oak, alder, or meadowsweet; nest locations had 30-100% cover (Houlihan, pers. comm.). In northern Arkansas, nesting areas included old fields invaded by cedars, locusts, sweetgum, persimmon, and pawpaw (Dechant, pers. comm.).

The following data are from Breeding Biology Research and Monitoring Database (BBIRD) sites in Arkansas plantations, where nests were mainly in hickory, elm (mostly winged), blackgum, oak, red maple, and vaccinium (D. Barber and T. Martin, unpubl. data). Mean values for nest site characteristics in thinned and young plantations were, respectively, 52 and 66% side cover, 67 and 80% overhead cover, 2.6 and 1.5 m nest height, 3.2 and 2.4 m plant height, 4.1 and 3.5 cm plant dbh, and presence of 8 and 13 small (<2.5 cm) and 70 and 54 large woody stems in a 5-m radius surrounding nests.

NON-BREEDING: In migration and winter, occurs in various woodland, second growth, brush, and thicket situations. Winter is spent mainly in arid lowland forest or scrub, especially second growth, pine, pastures, brushy fields; mangroves, shade trees, sun coffee, and forest edge also are used (Lack and Lack 1972, Arendt 1992). More common in dry forest of introduced mimosaceous trees at Cabo Rojo National Wildlife Refuge (where insects more abundant and birds had higher fat scores) than in dry forest of native species in Guanica (Baltz, pers. comm.). Across the Caribbean region, shows moderate habitat specialization (Wunderle and Waide 1993). In winter in Puerto Rico, September-March, individuals showed strong site fidelity within and between seasons (nearly 50% returned for a second winter, 40% a third winter).

Occupied Landcover Map Units:
Code NameDescription NC Natural Heritage Program Equivalent
121 Maritime Pinelands Loblolly forests and woodlands of the outer coastal plain. Estuarine Fringe Loblolly Pine Forest
17 Maritime Forests and Hammocks Maritime forests and woodlands dominated by live or sand laurel oak. Estuarine Fringe forests dominated by loblolly pine. Coastal Fringe Evergreen Forest, Maritime Deciduous Forest, Maritime Deciduous Forest
138 Coastal Plain Dry to Dry-Mesic Oak Forests Oak dominated forests of the coastal plain. Includes white oak forests with water oak or northern red oak and hickories as co-dominants. Dry Mesic Oak Hickory Forest, Basic Oak Hickory Forest, Dry Oak Hickory Forest
42 Xeric Longleaf Pine Sandhills including a range of longleaf pine density from predominantly wiregrass, scrub oak dominated to true longleaf pine woodland. This does not include mesic or saturated flatwood types. Xeric Sandhill Scrub, Pine/Scrub Oak Sandhill, Coastal Fringe Sandhill
46 Xeric Oak - Pine Forests Mixed forest dominated by yellow pines with white or northern red oaks co-dominating. Pine Oak Heath
232 Xeric Pine-Hardwood Woodlands and Forests Mixed forest dominated by yellow pines with drier oaks including southern red, post, and chestnut oaks. Dry Oak Hickory Forest
383 Piedmont Mixed Successional Forest Generally loblolly mixed with successional hardwoods. Sweetgum, tulip poplar and red maple are common co-dominants in these successional forests. No equivalent
228 Piedmont Dry-Mesic Oak and Hardwood Forests Primarily oak dominated forests, white oak is often dominant, with co-dominants including . Also represented by sweetgum and tulip poplar dominated forests. Dry Mesic Oak Hickory Forest, Basic Oak Hickory Forest, Dry Oak Hickory Forest
222 Piedmont Dry-Mesic Pine Forests Loblolly dominated forests resulting from succession following clearing. This type occurs on all moisture regimes following disturbance with the exception of the extremely xeric sites. No equivalent
382 Dry Mesic Oak Pine Forests Mixed forests of the coastal plain and piedmont. Includes loblolly pine with white, southern red and/or post oak and loblolly with water oak. On basic sites of the piedmont, eastern red cedar may co-occur with post, black, and blackjack oaks. Dry Mesic Oak Hickory Forest, Xeric Hard Pan Forest, Chestnut Oak Forest, Dry Mesic Oak Hickory Forest, Dry Oak Hickory Forest
220 Piedmont Xeric Pine Forests Dry to xeric pine forests dominated by Virginia pine, shortleaf pine or Eastern Red Cedar. Pine Oak Heath
226 Piedmont Xeric Woodlands Generally post and blackjack oak dominated woodlands. White ash and pignut hickory can be found in combination with Eastern red cedar on glades. Xeric Hardpan Forest
20 Coniferous Regeneration Regenerating pine stands. Predominantly loblolly pine, but slash and longleaf stands occur as well. No equivalent
21 Coniferous Cultivated Plantation (natural / planted) Managed pine plantations, densely planted. Most planted stands are loblolly, but slash and longleaf occur as well. No equivalent
51 Deciduous Cultivated Plantation Planted deciduous trees. Includes sweetgum and sycamore plantations. No equivalent
36 Successional Deciduous Forests Regenerating deciduous trees with a shrub stature. Commonly dominated by sweetgum, tulip poplars and maples. No equivalent
180 Agricultural Crop Fields Farm fields used for row crops. No equivalent
205 Agricultural Pasture/Hay and Natural Herbaceous Farm fields used for pasture grass or hay production, as well as old fields dominated by native and exotic grasses. No equivalent
523 Grassy Bald High Elevation grassy balds including Pennsylvania sedge, mountain oatgrass, as well as shrubby areas dominated by Alleghany and smooth blackberry. Grassy Bald
524 Shrub Bald Variable phenologies, predominantly evergreen balds with rhododendon and Mountain laurels. Deciduous shrubs including green alder and Alleghany and smooth blackberry are included as well. Red Oak - Chestnut Oak Woodlands may be included in cases where the density of the woodland species is low and the shrub component is dense. Heath Bald
528 Appalachian Xeric Pine Forest Pine forests and woodlands on xeric sites. A variety of pines, including Virginia, Shortleaf, Eastern White Pine, Table Mountain and Pitch pine. Often small areas of dense pine within a matrix of Xeric Oak-Pine Forests. Pine Oak Heath
529 Appalachian Xeric Mixed Forest Mixed forests with Virginia, Shortleaf, Eastern White Pine, Table Mountain and Pitch pines in combination with xeric oak species. Oaks include, white, Southern Red, black, and rock chestnut. Pine Oak Heath
530 Appalachian Xeric Deciduous Forest Deciduous forests in the mountains dominated by Xeric Oak species. Species include, white, Southern red, black, and rock chestnut. High Elevation Red Oak Forest, Montane White Oak Forest
535 Talus/Outcrops/Cliffs Includes seep talus slopes with sparce vegetation, as well as outcrops including, granitic outcrops. Some outcrops will have been mapped as barren rock. No equivalent
View Entire Landcover Legend
Additional Spatial Constraints:
Exclude all area outside of known range.
Limited to edge habitats including forest/field borders, shrublands and woodlands.
Faaborg, J., and W. J. Arendt. 1992. Long-term declines of winter resident warblers in a Puerto Rican dry forest:which species are in trouble? Pages 57-63 in J. M. Hagan III and D. W. Johnston (editors). Ecology and Conservation of Neotropical Migrant Lan

Wunderle, J.M., Jr., and R.B. Waide. 1993. Distribution of overwintering Nearctic migrants in the Bahamas and Greater Antilles. Condor 95:904-933.

Carter, M., G. Fenwick, C. Hunter, D. Pashley, D. Petit, J. Price, and J. Trapp. 1996. Watchlist 1996:For the future. Field Notes 50(3):238-240.

Bent, A.C. 1953. Life histories of North American wood warblers. U.S. Natl. Mus. Bull. 203. Washington, D.C.

Evers, D. C. 1992. A guide to Michigan's endangered wildlife. Univ. Michigan Press, Ann Arbor. viii + 103 pp.

Hagan, J.M., III, and D.W. Johnston, editors. 1992. Ecology and conservation of neotropical migrant landbirds. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C. xiii + 609 pp.

Fussell, J. III and M. Lyons. 1990. Birds of the Outer Banks [pamphlet]. Eastern National Parks and Monument Association Coastal Wildlife Refuge Society.

Dechant, Jill. University of Arkansas. Pers. comm.

Houlihan, Peter. University of Massachusetts. Pers. comm.

James, F.C., D.A. Wiedenfeld, and C.E. McCulloch. 1992. Trends in breeding populations of warblers:declines in the southern highlands and increases in the lowlands. Pages 43-56 in J.M. Hagan III and D.W. Johnston, editors. Ecology and conservation of neot

Sauer, J.R., and S. Droege. 1992. Geographical patterns in population trends of neotropical migrants in North America. Pages 26-42 in J.M. Hagan III and D.W. Johnston, editors. Ecology and conservation of neotropical migrant landbirds. Smithsonian Institu

Fussell, J.O. III. 1994. A birderís guide to coastal North Carolina. Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press.

Price, J., S. Droege, and A. Price. 1995. The summer atlas of North American birds. Academic Press, New York. x + 364 pp.

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

Faaborg, J., and W.J. Arendt. 1989. Long-term declines in winter resident warblers in a Puerto Rican dry forest. American Birds 43:1226-1230.

Stupka A 1963. Notes on the birds of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press.

Lack, D. 1976. Island biology illustrated by the land birds of Jamaica. Studies in Ecology, Vol. 3. Univ. California Press, Berkeley. 445 pp.

Harrison, C. 1978. A field guide to the nests, eggs and nestlings of North American birds. Collins, Cleveland, Ohio.

Griscom, L., and A. Sprunt, Jr. 1979. The warblers of America. Doubleday and Co., Garden City, New York. 302 pp.

Harrison, H.H. 1979. A field guide to western birds' nests. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. 279 pp.

Potter, E. F., J. F. Parnell, and R. P. Teulings. 1980. Birds of the Carolinas. Univ. North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill. 408 pp.

Terres, J.K. 1980. The Audubon Society encyclopedia of North American birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.

American Ornithologists' Union (AOU), Committee on Classification and Nomenclature. 1983. Check-list of North American Birds. Sixth Edition. American Ornithologists' Union, Allen Press, Inc., Lawrence, Kansas.

Raffaele, H.A. 1983. A guide to the birds of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Fondo Educativo Interamericano, San Juan, Puerto Rico. 255 pp.

Harrison, H.H. 1984. Wood warblers' world. Simon and Schuster, New York. 335 pp.

Ehrlich, P.R., D.S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1988. The birder's handbook:a field guide to the natural history of North American birds. Simon and Shuster, Inc., New York. xxx + 785 pp.

Droege, S., and J.R. Sauer. 1990. North American Breeding Bird Survey, annual summary, 1989. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Biological Report 90(8). 22 pp.

Morimoto, D. C., and F. E. Wasserman. 1991. Dispersion patterns and habitat associations of rufous-sided towhees, common yellowthroats, and prairie warblers in the southeastern Massachusetts pine barrens. Auk 108:264-276.

Pashley, D. N. 1989. Pashley contracted with the Latin America Program to update and expand the distribution information of neotropical migrant birds. This SA code indicates information based on his personal observations.

Lack, D., and P. Lack. 1972. Wintering warblers in Jamaica. Living Bird. 11:129-153.

Arendt, W.J. 1992. Status of North American migrant landbirds in the Caribbean region:a summary. Pages 143-171 in J.M. Hagan III, and D.W. Johnston, editors. Ecology and conservation of neotropical migrant landbirds. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washing

Baltz, Michael. University of Missouri. Pers. comm.

10 March 2005
This data was compiled and/or developed by the North Carolina GAP Analysis Project.

For more information please contact them at:
NC-GAP Analysis Project
Dept. of Zoology, NCSU
Campus Box 7617
Raleigh, NC 27695-7617
(919) 513-2853