7 Small Yellow Birds in Illinois

Depending on the season, you may spot many or very few yellow birds in Illinois. Spring is the best season for watching birds, especially if you’re looking for small yellow birds.

During the breeding season, there are several species of birds with yellow plumage in the state of Illinois. I’m going to discuss the 7 most common ones.

Hopefully, with the information that I will provide, it’ll be easy for you to identify the birds you see when out and about.

American Yellow Warbler

An endearing small bird with a sweet song, the American yellow warbler is a warm yellow overall with dark streaks on its back and wings, and reddish streaks on its chest.

This small yellow bird is indeed petite – it weighs only 0.3-0.4 oz and has a length of only 4.7-5.1 in.

You can find the American yellow warbler not only in Illinois. It’s distributed from the Arctic Circle all the way down to Mexico.

Its wide distribution is also a consequence of its adaptability to a wide variety of habitats. You can find the yellow warbler in swamp edges, in bushes along streams, lakes, marshes. It’ll also make its appearances in orchards, gardens, and roadside thickets.

As foliage gleaners, they’ll forage restlessly for insects including caterpillars, mosquitoes, beetles, mayflies, moths, other insects and spiders.

Preferred nesting sites of the American yellow warbler include adler trees, willows and cottonwoods. The nest is built in an upright fork of branches as many as 60 feet above the ground.

The female lays 4-5 eggs that are greenish white. The eggs are incubated only by the female, however, during the incubation period the male feeds the female.

Wilson’s Warbler

The Wilson’s warbler is one of the smallest warblers in the United States. It would be easy to identify after its black cap, if it were to stay put for a moment.

This warbler is always seen actively hopping from branch to branch or dashing between shrubs hunting for insects.

They’re breeding range is in the mountains and northern forests of North America but make an appearance during migration in all the lower 48 states.

Because of their overwhelming appetite for insects, they don’t visit feeders, so luring them with seeds and whatnot won’t be successful.

What you can do instead is planting warbler-friendly trees and shrubs in your yard, so they may hang around a bit in your backyard hunting for insects during their migration.

Unlike the American yellow warbler, the Wilson’s warbler typically builds its nest on the ground in small depressions at the base of well-hidden logs, tree saplings, or willow stem.

The nest is built completely alone by the female using large leaves or sedges to form the base. The nest is then lined with moss, fine grass, strips of bark, and animal hair. The female lays up to 7 eggs and incubates them for around 10-13 days.

American Goldfinch

While most small yellow birds in Illinois are there only in spring or in passing while migrating, the American Goldfinch can be found year round.

A beloved bird across the United States, the American Goldfinch is a small, yellow bird with a black cap and black wings.

The American Goldfinch is such a ubiquitous presence that several states have named it their state bird including New Jersey, Washington, and Iowa.

This yellow bird enjoys weedy fields and floodplains, cultivated roadsides, orchards, backyards, and other places where thistles and asters are abundant.

They’re common visitors at bird feeders, especially during winter when natural food sources become scarce.

Stocking your bird feeders with sunflower seeds and nyjer seeds will keep American Goldfinches around. These birds feed almost exclusively on seeds.

When picking out the nesting site, they go for more open settings instead of dense forests. The nest is built solely by the female, usually high in a shrub, at the juncture of several vertical branches.

The nest is built using various plant matter and lined with soft “pappus” material taken from seed heads that American Goldfinches feed on. Females lay 2-7 eggs.

Common Yellowthroat

Next on my list of small yellow birds you can spot in Illinois is the Common yellowthroat. They can be found across most of the United States, Canadian provinces and western Mexico.

This yellow-and-olive warbler features a black mask in its face edged with white. The throat is bright yellow. Females lack the black ‘mask’ and have more brownish tones.

These warblers are the size of a sparrow or even smaller, weighing only 0.3 oz. You can spot them in swamps, thickets, and marshes. They prefer wet areas with low growing, dense vegetation.

Common yellowthroats spend their time low to the ground searching for insects in dense vegetation. As foliage gleaners, they search for insects on leaves, branches, and other parts of the vegetation. They eat several types of insects, their larvae, and even spiders.

Unlike many other birds whose eggs fall prey to Cowbirds, the Common Yellowthroat has adapted defences against brood-parasitism.

For example, if they detect Cowbird eggs in their nests, they will abandon their nests, and build new nests elsewhere. Or built a new nest on top of the old nest.

Magnolia Warbler

Another yellow bird you might spot in Illinois is the Magnolia warbler. Despite being an active bird, it tends to stay low in the shrubbery, making it easy to spot compared to warblers that prefer higher vegetation.

Compared to the other warblers I discussed, the Magnolia one features yellow and black or gray plumage in almost the same ratio.

The bird is black and gray above and yellow with black streaks below. White streaks are visible above the eye and white patches adorn the wings.

They don’t visit feeders and you can’t really lure them to feeders with anything, since they have a diet that’s insects based.

During migration, however, they may stop in your yard, especially if there are native shrubs that may provide them with lots of insects.

Caterpillars seem to be their favorite insect, but they’ll feed on a variety of other insects and spiders. In the fall, they may occasionally sample fruits as well.

Unlike other warblers, where the nest building activities are left to the female alone, the male Magnolia warbler joins the female and helps in the nest building. The size of the clutch is usually 3-5 eggs.

New World Warblers

New World warblers are a group of small, mostly yellow birds that are part of the family Parulidae and they’re distributed across the Americas.

Some warblers are arboreal, meaning they spend most of their time in the foliage of trees, others like the water-thrusters are terrestrial. Most of these birds are insectivores.

These birds live in diverse habitats, but mostly habitats near water such as marshes, river sides, and other wet or semi-dry areas.

Some examples of New World Warblers include the Golden-Winged Warbler, Kirtland’s Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Northern Parula, and Ovenbird.

Of these the Northern Parula is a summer resident of southern Illinois and a migrant in other parts of the state.

The Northern parula is light gray above and creamy white below with a shiny yellow chest and yellow patch on the back.

Because of their preference for wooded areas, these warblers are also called wood warblers. Although they can be found in the upper levels of the forest and the subcanopy, in migration, they can also be observed foraging in the understory.

Western Tanager

A yellow bird with an orange face, black wings and yellow body, the Western tanager is definitely a colorful bird that would be hard to miss if they would not prefer staying hidden in the canopy of evergreens.

Although not common in Illinois, they may be spotted in summer in the northern two-thirds of the state. As its name suggests, the bird lives in open woods all over the West.

While most birds get the orange and red plumage from the carotenoids in their diets, the Western tanager gets its red-orange feathers from a substance called rhodoxanthin, which is found in the insects the bird consumes.

Because this bird doesn’t typically eat seeds, you can’t lure it to bird feeders. But it does appreciate bird baths and running water, which may persuade it to visit your garden.

In fall and winter, they will also eat small fruits and berries, including elderberries, blackberries, hawthorn, wild cherries, and other native berries and fruit.


As you can see, there are plenty of small yellow birds that you can spot in Illinois, especially during spring and summer. Except for the American Goldfinch, the other birds I discussed in this article are migrants and don’t stick around in the winter.

Most of these yellow birds are foliage gleaners, foraging for insects in the canopy of trees or shrubs. They also enjoy habitats that are near or close to rivers, streams and other water sources, particularly because of their appetite for insects.

Because they dash from bush to bush, it can be difficult to spot them, especially that they’re also small enough to almost go unnoticed. However, their beautiful singsongs make up for their elusive nature.

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