15 Popular Yellow Birds in Iowa (Ultimate Guide + Pictures)

Whether you’re out in the Iowa woods, going for a walk in a park, or catching sight of a yellow bird from your window, it’s easy to confuse different kinds of yellow birds that appear in this midwestern state. This guide to yellow birds commonly seen in Iowa is a great way to give a bird its name and identify what you saw.

From half a dozen different warbler varieties to yellowthroats, meadowlarks, orioles, and more, Iowa offers an abundance of yellow-colored avian wildlife. Many birds are seasonal layovers during breeding months, while others might show up on checklists during winter and year-round.

Identify an unknown bird from among these 15 popular yellow birds in Iowa and find out what to look for next time you spot a new feathered visitor.

Yellow Birds in Iowa

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1. Yellow Warbler

  • Scientific name: Setophaga Petechia
  • Diet: Insectivore
  • Habitat: Wetlands, backyards and gardens, and shrubs
  • Lifespan: 7 years
  • Size: 6 inches
  • Weight: 3 ounces
  • Wingspan: 7 inches

Spring brings these golden, warbling visitors to Iowa to mate and nest before flying south during the colder months. Yellow Warblers have dark-olive backs and wing feathers, while their cheeks, breast, and belly are a bold yellow color dotted with pale brown flecks. Their song is a high-pitched, buzzy drone interspersed with chipping sounds.

Look for these interesting birds in local yards, creek-side shrubs, along roads, and marshy areas where they are usually seen foraging for bugs.

2. Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

  • Scientific name: Geothlypis trichas
  • Diet: Insectivore and herbivore
  • Habitat: Wet lowlands, woods, and thickets
  • Lifespan: 9 years
  • Size: 4 or 5 inches
  • Weight: 2 to 3 ounces
  • Wingspan: About 7 inches

Another migratory visitor is the fluffy, yellowish-olive Common Yellowthroat. It bears brownish-yellow feathers along the wings and on its back. Look for the distinctive vivid yellow mark across the chest, a black mask across the eyes, and white eyebrows (males) or a gray crown (females).

You’re likely to spot these birds prowling for bugs and seeds in wet places near marshes, rivers, or dense, brushy spaces.

3. American Goldfinch

  • Scientific name: Spinus tristis
  • Diet: Granivore and insectivore
  • Habitat: Empty fields, backyards, and city parks
  • Lifespan: 6 years
  • Size: 4 inches
  • Weight: 2 ounces
  • Wingspan: 7 inches

One of the most fabulous birds to spot in Iowa is the American Goldfinch. Its body looks like a butter-stick topped with a black cap and black wings tipped with white bars. Check out its wedge-shaped orangey-pink bill for further identification.

These birds appear on most summer and winter checklists in the state. During summer, you might see them foraging for seeds from milkweeds, asters, or thistles in rural fields, while in winter, they might appear more often in city parks and at backyard sunflower-seed feeders.

4. Yellow-Rumped Warbler

  • Scientific name: Setophaga coronata
  • Diet: Insectivore and herbivore
  • Habitat: Coniferous forests, shrubs, backyards, and parkland
  • Lifespan: 4 years
  • Size: 5 inches
  • Weight: 1 ounce
  • Wingspan: 8 inches on average 

With somber, streaky black and gray body feathers offset by a bright yellow head, chest, and backside, the Yellow-Rumped Warbler is a striking sight to behold. Females have a paler yellow patch on their chests. In wintertime, male birds’ feathers turn to faded tones similar to female birds.

Watch for them in parks and yards that have juniper, spruce, or other evergreen trees.

5. Eastern Meadowlark

  • Scientific name: Sturnella magna
  • Diet: Mainly insectivore
  • Habitat: Open fields and pastures
  • Lifespan: 7 years
  • Size: 8 to 10 inches
  • Weight: 4 ounces
  • Wingspan: 14 inches

Although this bird has experienced a decline in population to the point where it is considered an almost threatened species, it’s still possible to see this bird in the state of Iowa on occasion.

These tall-bodied songbirds are identified by their yellow body feathers, streaked black and brown feathers and backs, mottled plumage, and a sharp black V on their yellow chests. If you can get a closer look, check the wings for a black and brown barred pattern.

These songbirds have voices like flutes and are usually spotted in abandoned grasslands and fields where they come to hunt for bugs and seeds.

6. Blue-Winged Warbler

  • Scientific name: Vermivora cyanoptera
  • Diet: Insectivore
  • Habitat: Bushes and edges of mature forests
  • Lifespan: 6 or 7 years
  • Size: 5 inches
  • Weight: Close to 3 ounces
  • Wingspan: 8 inches

Blue-Winged Warblers are considered endangered in many states. In Illinois, it’s unusual to spot this unique little songbird, but the most likely time is during the spring nesting season through autumn migration timeframes (May through September).

This bird has bright yellow feathers all over its head, down to the nape, breast, and stomach, while the wings are gray, white-barred, and covered with lovely blue shades of color. Look for a dash of black eyeliner on males or a gray streak of eyeliner on females in addition to the yellow body and blue wings to help identify this bird.

Blue-Winged Warblers are omnivores that like to hang upside down in a shrub, just like a chickadee, to eat insects from the leafy undersides.

7. Wilson’s Warbler

  • Scientific name: Cardellina pusilla
  • Diet: Mostly insectivore
  • Habitat: Fields, lakes, along willow creeks, bogs, shrubs, and conifer or alder woods
  • Lifespan: 6 years
  • Size: 3.5 to 4 inches
  • Weight: 2 ounces
  • Wingspan: 6 inches

Wilson’s Warblers are spotted migrating across Iowa and are mainly spotted in May and September.

These chubby yellow songbirds wear a large black cap on their heads (males) and a smaller-size black crown (females). Since Wilson’s Warblers breed in the far north in Canada and Alaska, they are usually seen in Iowa during migration flights to Mexico and Central America. They are also known to breed in some northwestern states, so it’s possible to see them as more than a passing visitor.

Wilson’s Warblers breed in Canada, Alaska, and northwestern US states but can also be seen across all US states during migration.

 They winter in Mexico and Central America. While these warblers don’t come to backyard feeders, they stay near the edges of woods and streamside thickets where there are plentiful spiders, insects, and bug larvae. If you approach a Wilson’s Warbler’s nest, the bird will fake a broken wing to lure perceived threats away from the nest and then fly away.

8. Female Baltimore Oriole

  • Scientific name: Icterus Galbula
  • Diet: Mostly insectivore
  • Habitat: Deciduous woods, city parks, and backyards
  • Lifespan: 6 years
  • Size: About 5 inches
  • Weight: Close to 1 ounce
  • Wingspan: 7 or 8 inches 

A Baltimore Oriole has a liquid, fluting song that drips like honey through many peaceful, wooded spaces with open, deciduous tree growth.

Female birds have rich, golden heads and bodies. This color almost has an orange tint to it and extends down the bird’s legs to the elbow joint. Its wings are dark brown or blackish with white bars. Check out the black mask and throat patch for further identification.

They spend their time from April to May in cottonwood, elm, and maple trees or forests in the state. They also visit backyard feeders that offer sugar water and native berries and flowers that draw an array of bugs, beetles, flies, and ants for food.

9. Palm Warbler

  • Scientific name: Setophaga palmarum
  • Diet: Largely insectivore
  • Habitat: Edges of forests, weedy fields, and roadside thickets
  • Lifespan: 6 years
  • Size: About 6 inches
  • Weight: About 4 ounces
  • Wingspan: 8 inches 

Soft yellow shades with brown mottling topped by a rusty brown cap sets the Palm Warbler apart for birdwatchers in Iowa.

These attractive songbirds fly north for mating season in April where they hang out in overgrown spaces filled with bayberry and hawthorn trees and bushes that attract a myriad of insects.

10. Magnolia Warbler

  • Scientific name: Setophaga magnolia
  • Diet: Mostly insectivore, occasional fructivore
  • Habitat: Evergreen and mixed woods, and dense areas that contain pine, juniper, or spruce trees
  • Lifespan: 5 years
  • Size: 5 inches
  • Weight: 4 ounces
  • Wingspan: 9 inches

Another interesting yellow songbird that appears in Iowa during the spring breeding season is the Magnolia Warbler. This bird has a gray cap, a black face mask, and striking white eyebrows. Its body is yellow with soft black stripes.

It migrates north to coniferous wooded areas to nest before it heads south again to winter in the Caribbean or Mexico.

11. Dickcissel

  • Scientific name: Spiza americana
  • Diet: Insectivore and granivore
  • Habitat: Grasslands and edges such as unused fields, pastures, and sides of roads
  • Lifespan: 4 years
  • Size: 6 inches
  • Weight: A little over 1 ounce
  • Wingspan: 9 to 10 inches

This bird’s chunky body and head are fluffy gray paired with dull brown wings. What makes this bird stand out are the exquisite coloration details which include rusty red upper wing patches, a vivid yellow bib on the chest, a yellow eye mask with a whisk of yellow eyeliner, a black collar around a white throat, and a thick, blunt seed-eating bill.

 Female birds are similarly marked but have an overall duller tone. Females lack the black throat collar and wear only a faint wash of yellow on their chests.

They breed and feed in fields, along fencerows, and in tall grassy pastures where they hunt for crickets, grasshoppers, caterpillars, beetles, and seeds or grain.

12. Female Orchard Oriole

  • Scientific name: Icterus Spurious
  • Diet: Insectivore, fructivore, and granivore
  • Habitat: Open fields, parks, and orchards
  • Lifespan: 6 years
  • Size: About 4 inches
  • Weight: About 1 ounce
  • Wingspan: 6 inches 

This female looks similar to the female Baltimore Oriole female, so the easiest way to tell them apart is by body shape. While Baltimore Oriole females have longer, more slender bodies, Orchard Oriole females look like chubby feather puffballs. They are a similar shade of pale, subdued yellow with a hint of olive tones. They also have subtle gray and black on their wings.

These birds spend their time in orchards and other open, tree-lined spaces where they sip nectar, sugar water, local berries, fruits, and insect life.

13. Cedar Waxwing

  • Scientific name: Bombycilla cedrorum
  • Diet: Mostly insectivore
  • Habitat: Backyards, suburban parks, and orchards
  • Lifespan: 7 years
  • Size: 6 inches
  • Weight: 1 ounce
  • Wingspan: 10 inches

A Cedar Waxwing in Iowa is a delight to see. This chubby, pale brown bird has subtle yellow coloration on its chest and belly, while their face wears a thick black mask.

Look for the jutting crest of feathers on the back of its head. While their wings are a mix of grayish brown, they are decorated with bright red bars on the wings. In flight, the Cedar Waxwing’s tail expands like a fan to show vivid yellow tips.

Cedar Waxwings are one of the most astonishing birds that you might be lucky to spot in Maine.

While their main body is a soft, pale brown with pale yellow washes on the underbelly, their black-masked head is topped with a feathery brown crest. They are slender birds that can puff up their feathers to look as round as a butterball turkey. Their wings are brownish gray with cherry-red wing bars and a tail that flares in flight to reveal bright sunny yellow tips.

It’s more common to see this bird from May through September, busy foraging for berries, bugs, or fruit in juniper, serviceberry, hawthorn, or winterberry bushes or shrubs.

14. Nashville Warbler

  • Scientific name: Leiothlypis ruficapilla
  • Diet: Insectivore
  • Habitat: 30-60-year-old regrown scrub oak, juniper, or spruce woods
  • Lifespan: 6 years
  • Size: 5 inches
  • Weight: 5 ounces
  • Wingspan: 9 inches

A Nashville Warbler has bright yellow patches like melted butter across the neck, chest, and belly. Their wings are an olive-brown shade with gray heads. Check out their bold black eyes ringed with white marks for further identification.

Seen in the state during breeding times, Nashville Warblers stick to a diet of insects but enjoy occasional suet from backyard feeders.

15. Canada Warbler

  • Scientific name: Cardellina canadensis
  • Diet: Usually insectivore
  • Habitat: Blended conifer and deciduous trees
  • Lifespan: 5 years
  • Size: 8 inches
  • Weight: 5 ounces
  • Wingspan: 8 inches

Another gorgeous yellow bird that is visible in Iowa from April through September or October is the yellow-chested Canada Warbler. Above gray wings and backs, male birds wear a dangling black “necklace”, while female birds wear a similar but faded neck decoration. 

This warbler hangs out in poplar or evergreen woods where it’s possible to sometimes spot them on the hunt for their next insect meal.

Final Thoughts

One of the best things about birdwatching in any state is getting close (in person or with binoculars) to spot the intriguing patterns and details that give each bird its own unique look.

Next time you notice a yellow Iowa bird that you don’t recognize, you’ll know what to look for to distinguish different yellow birds from each other in that state.

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