Northern ParulaSetophaga americana

adult male
Greg Lasley/VIREO
adult female
Garth McElroy/VIREO
adult male
Garth McElroy/VIREO
immature female (1st winter)
Gerard Bailey/VIREO
immature (1st winter)
John Heidecker/VIREO
adult male
Brian E. Small/VIREO
adult female
James M. Wedge/VIREO

Family

Description

This small warbler is often hard to see as it forages in dense foliage of the treetops. However, it is easy to hear; the male seems to repeat his buzzy trickle-up song constantly from early spring through mid-summer at least. Northern Parulas hide their nests inside hanging Spanish moss in the South, or in the similar Usnea lichens in the North, where they are impossible to spot except by the actions of the parent birds.

Habitat

Breeds mainly in humid woods where either Usnea or Spanish Moss hangs from the trees (but also in some woods where neither is found.) Nests mainly in humid coniferous and deciduous forests, especially those with abundant tree lichens, in swamps or along edges of ponds, lakes, or slow-moving streams. In migration and winter, frequents almost any kind of trees.

Feeding Diet

Mostly insects. Feeds on small beetles, flies, moths, caterpillars, egg clusters, true bugs, ants, bees, wasps, and other insects, also spiders. Also eats some small berries. May feed nestlings many soft green larvae.

Feeding Behavior

Forages rather sedately. Searches among leaves, and hovers to take insects from foliage, sometimes hanging upside down on twigs like a chickadee or on trunk like a nuthatch. Occasionally darts out after flying insects, or forages on ground.

Nesting

Pairs often return to same nesting site year after year. Males sing during migration and throughout nesting season, even when feeding young. Nest: Placed usually in a hollow excavated in hanging tree lichens (Usnea) or Spanish moss, 4-50' above the ground. When no lichens or Spanish moss available, also constructed of dangling clumps of twigs or pine needles, or placed in rubbish left by floods in branches hanging over stream. Nest is small hanging pouch of lichen and twigs, unlined or lined sparsely with soft shreds of moss, grass, pine needles, and hair. Built solely by female, but male accompanies her on trips to the nest. Eggs: 4-5, occasionally 3-7. Whitish, variably marked with brown. Incubated by both parents, but mostly by female, 12-14 days. Young: Both parents feed young, but male may do more. Age at which young leave the nest is not well known.

Eggs

4-5, occasionally 3-7. Whitish, variably marked with brown. Incubated by both parents, but mostly by female, 12-14 days. Young: Both parents feed young, but male may do more. Age at which young leave the nest is not well known.

Young

Both parents feed young, but male may do more. Age at which young leave the nest is not well known.

Conservation

Still widespread and common, numbers apparently stable.

Range

Southern breeders return very early, often by early March, and may be actively nesting while other Parulas are passing through on their way farther north. Strays may appear in West at any time of spring or fall.

Listen

song variant
dawn song with chips
typical songs #1
dawn song #X
alarm chips
dawn song
typical songs #2

Similar Species

adult male, breeding

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adult male, Central

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adult male

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