Already a subscriber? Sign in Don't have a subscription? Subscribe Now
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Setophaga nigrescens
– Family
Authors: Guzy, Michael J., and Peter E. Lowther

Welcome to the Birds of North America Online!

Welcome to BNA Online, the leading source of life history information for North American breeding birds. This free, courtesy preview is just the first of 14 articles that provide detailed life history information including Distribution, Migration, Habitat, Food Habits, Sounds, Behavior and Breeding. Written by acknowledged experts on each species, there is also a comprehensive bibliography of published research on the species.

A subscription is needed to access the remaining articles for this and any other species. Subscription rates start as low as $5 USD for 30 days of complete access to the resource. To subscribe, please visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology E-Store.

If you are already a current subscriber, you will need to sign in with your login information to access BNA normally.

Subscriptions are available for as little as $5 for 30 days of full access! If you would like to subscribe to BNA Online, just visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology E-Store.


Male Black-throated Gray Warbler, Vancouver Is., BC, April.
Figure 1. Distribution of the Black-throated Gray Warbler.

This elegant but little-studied warbler of western North America is a relatively common bird of piñon-juniper, pine, and mixed oak-pine forests. Found and first described by John Kirk Townsend (1837) near Ft. William (now Portland), Oregon, the Black-throated Gray Warbler was already known there as “Ah Kah a qual” by the Chinook (J. K. Townsend, in Audubon 1839). It breeds generally west of the Rocky Mountains from northern Mexico to British Columbia, and winters mostly in Mexico. It is a short-to medium-distance Neotropical migrant and, like many such migrants, is insectivorous. Unlike some other Neotropical migrants, Black-throated Gray Warbler populations do not seem to have been affected by human activities to any great extent, but changes are difficult to assess because so little is known about this species.

This bird tends to be relatively tame and is often readily observed at close quarters as it forages methodically among foliage. Nevertheless, little is known about many aspects of its natural history. Although its nests are not unusually hard to find and are often placed low enough to be observed easily, almost no information is available on the breeding biology of this species. The only intensive studies of this warbler have dealt with foraging (e.g., Keane 1991) and song (e.g., Morrison 1990).

Recent genetic studies found that the genus Dendroica, in which S. nigrescens was placed formerly, was paraphyletic with Wilsonia citrina (the Hooded Warbler) and S. ruticilla (the American Redstart). As a result, all of the many species of Dendroica warbler, as well as W. citrina, were merged into the genus Setophaga (Chesser et al. 2011), the older name and a genus that for many decades was thought to be monotypic.