Capitol Hill Aviary | Hill welcomes avian arrivals from the tropics

Spring bird migration is underway, and Wilson’s warblers have begun to arrive in Capitol Hill. Some of these birds are just stopping over to browse our shrubbery for bugs before flying farther north to Canada or Alaska. Many, however, will stay all summer, breeding here and eating our bugs for the duration.


The Wilson’s warbler is easy to identify: a tiny bird with a black cap, bright yellow breast, and dirty olive-colored wings. It spends its winters in warmer climes—but don’t get too jealous. Every year, it makes the trip to Mexico or Central America and back on its own power.

We’ve seen birds that fly up to 60 miles per hour; now we’re seeing birds that fly up to 5,000 miles.


Wilson’s Warbler, originally uploaded by ap..

Before Wilson’s warblers migrate, they gain as much weight as they can—which isn’t much, as the heaviest top out around 8 grams. They’re nocturnal migrants, so they set out at dusk and fly until dawn. Because they’re so small, they frequently get blown off-course by storms.

After a night’s flight, Wilson’s warblers stop at the first safe spot they can find. There they rest and feed to recuperate the weight they lost during their nighttime journey. Rest stops vary in length depending on stressors and food availability, but they can last a couple of weeks.

You might see a Wilson’s warbler foraging for food anywhere in the neighborhood. They nest in shrubs near freshwater lakes and streams, so if you’d like to look for these birds near Capitol Hill, head down to Lake Washington and look along the shoreline.

Interested in learning more?

  • For fun facts and general information about the Wilson’s warbler, see their page at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
  • If you plan to go out looking for a Wilson’s warbler, consider studying its call and song at the Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds.
  • If you’re a bird nerd like me, you might enjoy testing your skills on these warbler quizzes at the Sibley Guides website. 

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11 thoughts on “Capitol Hill Aviary | Hill welcomes avian arrivals from the tropics

  1. Went to SE Arizona recently for the migration and got 43 life birds. The highlight was the Elegant Trogon and being buzzed by the Blue-Throated hummer. If you bird nerds haven’t been to Cave Creek Canyon, Patagonia-Sanoita, San Pedro Riparian Area, or Madera Canyon yet, make sure you add them to your list — amazing birding!

  2. I got dive bombed by a bird (I didn’t see which type) twice today while walking home. Isn’t it a bit early for attacking crows? I find it unsettling.