This species appears remarkably big-headed, especially if it puffs up the small crest. Its plumage is gray-brown above. It has a white throat, dirty gray breast and buffish underparts which become whiter during the breeding season. Two indistinct buff bars are present on each wing. Its lack of an eye ring and wingbars, and its all dark bill distinguish it from other North American tyrant flycatchers, and it pumps its tail up and down like other phoebes when perching on a branch.
They forage slowly on tree trunks and branches by poking their bill into pine cones. These birds also find food by searching for it on the ground. These birds mainly eat insects, seeds and berries.
Their nests are deep, open cups, which are placed near the end of a tree branch. Pine warblers prefer to nest in pine trees, hence their names. Three to five blotched white eggs are laid.