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Hermit Warbler

MARC number#LocationCountyArrival dateDeparture dateObserversReport
1964-011Mt. Auburn CemeteryMiddlesex5/16/645/16/64O. Earle1
1995-141831 Main Street, North AmherstHampshire11/19/9511/27/95D. Quilty, S. Surner2
1997-291Martha’s Vineyard State ForestDukes12/21/974/4/98M. Pelikan, B. Nikula3
2004-331north end of Ashley Reservoir, HolyokeHampden11/29/0411/30/04L. + A. Richardson et al.10

Hermit Warblers are the Pacific-coast representative of old virens ‘superspecies’ group that also includes Townsend’s, Golden-cheeked, Black-throated Gray and Black-throated Green Warblers. They prefer coniferous forests throughout the year. During the breeding season, Hermit Warblers occupy the cool evergreen forests from the western portion of Washington south through western Oregon and into northwestern California. They also breed in the Sierra Nevada mountains into central and southern California. Winter birds prefer the mountains of Mexico, with scattered reports of birds in Costa Rica south and California and Arizona to the north. Hermit Warblers are vagrants in the east.

WHERE TO LOOK IN MASSACHUSETTS: Hermit Warblers prefer conifers in all seasons, so it makes sense to scan heavy stands of pines in and around migrant traps across the state. Spots such as Salisbury Beach State Reservation, the Pines areas on Parker River NWR, High Head in Truro, and of course the good pine groves on both Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket should be considered. While many vagrant warblers appear to be strictly coastal, curiously half of Massachusetts’ records of Hermit Warbler come from dense pine stands well inland. This fact suggests that Hermit Warblers could appear just about anywhere with large contiguous blocks of conifers.

STATUS IN THE EAST: With just 7 records along the east coast, the Hermit Warbler is one of the rarest western strays to our area. The three non-Massachusetts records are as follows:
One 30 Nov 2002, Jones Beach State Park, Nassau, New York
One 28 Sep – 1 Oct 2008, Monhegan Island, Lincoln, Maine
One 4-8 Dec 2010, Sunken Meado State Park, Suffolk, New York

IDENTIFICATION NOTES: While adult birds are mostly straightforward, immature birds can be easily confused with other members of the superspecies complex, including Townsend’s, Black-throated Green and Golden-cheeked Warblers. Further complicating matters is the fact that Hermit and Towsend’s Warblers frequently hybridize. Adult males are easily recognized by the bright yellow face offset by a black throat and black nape, with a bright yellow crown. Most adults will have limited olive tones, and generally appear white, gray, yellow, and black. In all plumages pure Hermit Warblers are largely white or creamy white below, lacking any yellow tones. Female Hermit Warblers lack stripes on the back, and generally show some black or olive dots or spots extending from the crown between the eyes to the bill. Immature females lack any black in the throat, show an unstreaked olive-green back, and have yellow faces with a hint of a dusky facial pattern, especially in the auriculars. In all plumages the Hermit Warbler is separated from the Townsend’s Warbler by the lack of stripes along the sides and complete lack of yellow along the sides as well. Black-throated Green and Golden-cheeked Warblers show a dark line through the eye that extends to the bill in all plumages. Black-throated Green Warblers will show yellow in the vent area, and Golden-cheeked Warblers show dark spots along the sides in all plumages; the Hermit Warbler will never show these features.

Separating pure Hermit Warblers from Hermit X Townsend’s hybrids can be difficult. It is best to look for the presence of features that are inconsistent with a single species. For example, female Hermit Warblers should show no streaks on the back. Hermit Warblers should show no yellow wash along the sides, nor black stripes or spots in that area as well. Frequently hybrids are obvious and beautiful combinations of the features of the parent species, making them easily recognizable. For a good discussion of hybrids, see Dunn and Garrett (1997).


Dunn, J. and Garrett, K, 1997 (Plate 14, pp 70; pp 321-322). Warblers (Peterson Field Guide Series, Houghton Mifflin)