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Red Warbler Cardellina rubra

  • Order: Passeriformes
  • Family: Parulidae
  • Polytypic: 3 subspecies
  • Authors: Andrew Dreelin


Distinguishing Characteristics

Unlike any other warbler, Red Warbler is characterized by its uniquely brilliant rose red plumage and contrasting pale (silvery white or gray) auricular patch. Red Warbler has a relatively thin bill, long tail, and more rounded wings compared to other species of parulid. The bill and legs are brownish, and the remiges and rectrices are blackish with red hues. Females and immatures are similar to males, but are duller.

Similar Species

There is little that can be mistaken for a bird as distinctive as Red Warbler. Its closest relative, Pink-headed Warbler (Cardellina versicolor), has similarly brilliant plumage, but it is easily separated by its pink head and breast, as well as its lack of a white/gray auricular patch. More importantly, Pink-headed Warbler is only found only south of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, in Chiapas (Mexico) and in Guatemala, so its range does not overlap with that of Red Warbler. Similarly colored passerines such as Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea) and Summer Tanager (P. rubra) can be ruled out by their much larger size, thicker bill structure, and distinctly different vocalizations.

Detailed Description

The following description is based on Ridgway (1902) and on Curson et al. (1994), and refers to nominate rubra; see also Geographic Variation:

Adult: Bright, rose red overall, darker above and paler below. Auricular patch silvery white. Lesser and median coverts dark at the base with red tips, giving the appearance of a faint red wingbar. Rectrices and remiges dark with red edging. Sexes similar, although female on average is slightly duller or more orange red.

Juvenile: Similar in pattern to adult (including in having the pale auricular patch), but red replaced by cinnamon brown or tawny brown," with paler bill and tarsi.


Adults undergo a complete post-breeding molt that begins in August, during which time pairs separate; there is no pre-breeding molt (Elliott, 1969; Curson, 2010). Juveniles experience a complete post-juvenile molt in April-July, based on a juvenile from June that had replaced most of its body feathers as well as the same secondaries in each wing (Curson, 2010).

Bare Parts

Iris: dark brown, brown, black

Bill: maxilla pinkish gray, horn brown; mandible pinkish gray

Tarsi and toes: flesh, dull red brown

Bare parts color description from Ridgway (1902), Curson (2010), and specimens in the Field Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology.


Total length: 12.5–13.5 cm (Howell and Webb 1995), 13 cm (Curson et al. 1994)

Linear measurements (from Curson et al. 1994):


wing length (chord), range 57-65 mm (n = 28)

tail length, range 54-64 mm (n = 10)

bill length (exposed culmen), range 7-9 mm (n = 10)

tarsus length, range 17-20 mm (n = 10)


wing length (chord), range 56-63 mm (n = 16)

tail length, range 53-59 mm (n = 10)

bill length (exposed culmen), range 7-8 mm (n = 10)

tarsus length, range 17-20 mm (n = 10)

Mass: 7.6-8.7 g (n = 5,  sexes combined?; Curson et al. 1994)

Recommended Citation

Dreelin, A. (2014). Red Warbler (Cardellina rubra), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.