We usually don’t regard the winter months of December, January, and February as the months of the year to see warblers in Ohio. A few species of warblers, however, are annually encountered during these months of the year. I tend to feel that Yellow-rumped Warblers, especially in central and southern Ohio are the ones most frequently encountered. It is not unusual to find small loose flocks of them near poison-ivy vines and thickets, especially intertwined in pine and other evergreen trees and feeding on poison-ivy fruit. In recent years, numbers of Pine and Orange-crowned Warblers have increased during the winter months especially near feeding stations utilizing suet and peanut butter for their winter nourishment.  Two other species, the Common Yellowthroat and Palm Warbler, may also be found during the earlier part of the winter but often depart by mid-January or may succumb to the rigors of cold spells during Ohio’s winters.  However, even those two species occasionally can be considered as overwintering.

I was aware of several other Ohio winter month’s records of some of Ohio’s 40 recorded species of warbler, but how many are there? To my surprise, in addition to the five species mentioned above, 17 other species of warblers have been recorded for the months of December, January, and February in Ohio for a total of 22 species. It should be noted that some species may linger in the fall as late departing migrants. Other species may return the last few days of February as early returning spring migrants, so some caution needs to be applied to the topic. The following information was summarized using records from Harlan (2022), Harlan (2021-22),Peterjohn (2001), Watts et al (2016), and eBird records from the “explore species maps tabs.”

Yellow-rumped Warbler Feeding on Poison Ivy - Photo John Watts
Yellow-rumped Warbler feeding on poison ivy berries – Photo John Watts

The following species occur regularly in low numbers during the winter months, except as noted:

Orange-crowned Warbler* – Rare early winter visitor and overwintering species with numbers increasing near feeders in recent years.

Common Yellowthroat – Casual to accidental winter visitor with 1-6 reported annually through the first half of January.

Palm Warbler – Casual early winter visitor with most departing by Jan. 15.; at least 4 overwintering records.

Pine Warbler – Rare winter visitor in small numbers.  Most recent Franklin Co., 2018-2022.

Yellow-rumped Warblers – Casual to rare to uncommon winter residents increasing in numbers from northern to southern Ohio; occasionally in larger flocks in southern Ohio.

The following species are very rare to accidental species and should not expected during most winters:

Orange-crowned Warbler - Photo John Watts
Orange-crowned Warbler – Photo John Watts

Ovenbird – Accidental winter visitor with at least 3 overwintering records, most near feeders.

Northern Waterthrush – Accidental winter visitor with at least 7 December records;      Tuscarawas Co., 1/3-2/15/1998 may have been an overwintering bird.

Louisiana Waterthrush – Accidental with 2 records; Geauga Co., 12/31/2016; Summit Co., 12/29/2001.

Black-and-white Warbler – At least 6 records; late February records could be early migrants.

Tennessee Warbler – 2 records; Cuyahoga Co., 2019 and 2022.

Nashville Warbler – 9 records; most recent Franklin Co., 2022.

American Redstart – 4 records; Lake Co., 1973; Franklin Co., 2015 and 2021; Hamilton Co., 2022.

Cape May Warbler – At least 15 records; Hocking Co., 12/25/2009 to mid-April 2010; most ecent Franklin Co., 2022.

Northern Parula – 1 record; Trumbull Co., 2023.

Magnolia Warbler – 1 record; Erie Co., Kelley’s Island, 2016.

Yellow Warbler – 5 records; Cleveland, 12/7/1983; Wayne Co., 12/14/2018; Holmes Co., 12/6/03 and 12/14/19; Sheldon’s Marsh SNP, Erie Co., 12/18/21.

Chestnut-sided Warbler – 1 record; Franklin Co., 2020.

Black-throated Blue Warbler – 6 records; most recent Franklin Co., 2021.

Yellow-throated Warbler – 5 records; most recent Summit Co., 2017.

Black-throated Gray Warbler – 2 records; Athens Co., 1969; Brown Co., 12/25/92-2/16/1993; Cuyahoga Co., 12/11-12/18/1993. 

Black-throated Green Warbler – 1 record; Franklin Co., 2021.

Wilson’s Warbler – 4 records; most recent Licking Co., 2021/2022.

Finding warblers during Ohio’s winter months will be a challenge in some areas of the state, but the reward may brighten our otherwise cloudy gray months.  Good luck.


eBird.org/explore/species maps.  Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  

Harlan, Robert N. The Ohio Cardinal, Winter 2021-22. Vo. 45., No. 2., pp. 99-101.

Harlan, Robert N. 2022.  Ohio Bird Records Committee Annotated Checklist of the Birds of Ohio. 65 p.

Peterjohn, Bruce G. 2001.  Birds of Ohio.  The Wooster Book Company.  Wooster, Ohio. 637 p.

Watts, John T., Knoop Paul E. Jr.., and Coovert, Gary. 2016. Birds of Hocking County, Ohio. McDonald & Woodward Publishing.  Newark, Ohio. 144p.

Encyclopedia of North American Birds. Alford Knopf. New York.

John Watts is a retired Resource Manager, Columbus Metro Parks, and a member of the Ohio Natural Areas and Preserves Association (ONAPA) Board Advisory Committee. This article is republished here by kind permission of ONAPA. All photos by John Watts.

Pine Warbler - Photo Debbie Koenigs/USFWS Midwest Region
Pine Warbler – Photo Debbie Koenigs/USFWS Midwest Region