SIB “Bird of the Week” – Northern Parula

Northern Parula – Setophaga americana
Length:  4.5″; Wingspan: 7″; Weight: 0.3 oz.

Northern Parula (Male) - Ed Konrad
Northern Parula (Male) – Ed Konrad

Northern Parulas are tiny, dainty birds and one of North America’s smallest wood-warblers.  These birds are very active and beautiful warblers that are sometimes hard to see because they love to forage in the dense foliage of mid to upper tree canopies.  Most birders hear their familiar rising buzzy trill with a final sharp note long before they get a glimpse of this warbler.

On Seabrook Island we are fortunate to have these birds from late March through summer months while they are breeding.  Once you are familiar with their sound you will be amazed as you drive/walk around our island how many Northern Parulas make Seabrook their home.  In fact, we’ve been hearing them often as we golf both Crooked Oaks and Ocean Winds.

These small birds are only 4.5” in length and weigh only 0.3 ounces. Male Parulas are mainly blue-gray above with two conspicuous white wing-bars and a partial white eye-ring.  They have a light greenish-yellow triangular patch on back; throat and yellow breast and white belly.  Adult males have chestnut and black bands across breast.  Female colors are similar to males but duller and generally lack breast bands. First-year (<1 yr old) birds are similar to females but more greenish on upper parts.

Northern Parulas are mainly insectivorous.  They feed mainly on spiders, damselflies, grasshoppers, beetles, caterpillars, flies, wasps, and ants.  Regardless of season, caterpillars and spiders are consumed most often.  During the winter, the Northern Parula consumes more beetles and occasionally forages on berries, seeds, and nectar.

They are a monogamous species.  Their habitat during breeding is along swamps, ponds or lakes in humid woodlands where they can nest in Old Man’s Beard lichen or Spanish moss.  Pairs often return to same nesting site year after year.  Males sing during migration and throughout nesting season, even when feeding young.  Nestlings are fed mainly by females and the average rate of feeding: 1 trip/13.6 min. Over a 6-hour period, one female carried food 19 times.  When they are not breeding you might find Northern Parulas in pastures; dry or wet forests; and agricultural fields or plantations.

A group of warblers has many collective nouns, including a “bouquet”, “confusion”, “fall”, and “wrench” of warblers.

(See the range map following the photographs below.)

If you would like to learn more about this bird visit:

This blog post is part of a series SIB will publish on a regular basis to feature birds seen in the area, both migratory and permanent residents.  When possible we will use photographs taken by our members.    Please let us know if you have any special requests of birds you would like to learn more about.

Update Gallery with pictures and range map

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