This species’ plumage is broadly similar to that of its apparent closest relative, the Golden-browed Warbler (Basileuterus belli), differing principally in the white, not yellow, and narrower superciliary, and there is usually also some white on the face, and over the ventral region in some subspecies. The eight recognized subspecies form two major groups, those with a white belly, and those with yellow posterior underparts. Individuals of the former group have occasionally been recorded as vagrants in the southernmost states of the USA. The Rufous-capped Warbler is also rather more widely distributed than the Golden-browed Warbler, ranging from northwest Mexico south to northern Colombia and northwest Venezuela. Its altitudinal range is also broad, from the lowlands to at least 3000 m; the species occurs in a wide range of scrubby or wooded habitats, but is generally absent from more densely forested areas.