Tropical ParulaSetophaga pitiayumi

adult male
Greg Lasley/VIREO
adult female
Rick and Nora Bowers/VIREO
immature
Andres M. Sada/VIREO
adult male
Mark Lockwood/VIREO

Family

Description

Very similar to our Northern Parula, this bird is widespread in the tropics, from northern Mexico to central Argentina. In our area, it is mainly a summer resident of southern Texas, especially in low live-oak groves south of Kingsville. Most of these birds seem to disappear in winter, but a few can be found at that season associating with roving flocks of titmice and other birds in woods along the Rio Grande.

Habitat

Oaks, riverside woods. In southern Texas, breeds mainly in groves of low live oaks with much Spanish moss (for nest sites), surrounded by mesquites. Also sometimes in dense native woods near Rio Grande where much Spanish moss hangs in trees. In the tropics, nests in many kinds of woodlands, from dry lowland thorn forest to humid forest in the mountains.

Feeding Diet

Largely insects. Diet not known in detail; undoubtedly feeds mostly on insects. Known to feed on wasps, ants, flies, and others.

Feeding Behavior

Forages actively from mid-level to the treetops, frequently along streams. Searches among leaves, and hovers momentarily to take insects from foliage; sometimes flies out to catch flying insects in mid-air.

Nesting

Details are not well known. In the tropics, may remain paired on territory throughout the year. In Texas, most apparently depart in winter. After returning in spring, males sing persistently to defend territory. Nest: Placed 8-40' above ground in hanging Spanish moss; sometimes in hollow in orchids or dangling cactus. In Spanish moss, little material may be added. In other sites, nest is cup-shaped and constructed of moss, palmetto bark, grass, roots, and animal hair; lined with plant down and feathers. Nest probably built by female. Eggs: Usually 3-4 in south Texas, 2 in the tropics. Creamy white with chestnut speckles around larger end. The incubation period and the roles of the parents are not well known. Young: Probably both parents feed the nestlings. Age at which the young leave the nest is not well known.

Eggs

Usually 3-4 in south Texas, 2 in the tropics. Creamy white with chestnut speckles around larger end. The incubation period and the roles of the parents are not well known. Young: Probably both parents feed the nestlings. Age at which the young leave the nest is not well known.

Young

Probably both parents feed the nestlings. Age at which the young leave the nest is not well known.

Conservation

Has disappeared from areas along Rio Grande where it formerly nested. Presence north of there, in Kingsville region, is a recent discovery. Widespread and common in tropics.

Range

Returns to nesting areas in south-central Texas early, often in March. A few stay through winter along lower Rio Grande. Strays have reached Louisiana and Arizona.

Similar Species

adult male, Central

Yellow-throated Warbler

A clear-voiced singer in the treetops in southern woodlands. Yellow-throated Warblers return very early in spring to the pine woods and cypress swamps, where they may be seen foraging rather deliberately along branches high in the trees. In the Midwest, they are typically found in riverside groves of sycamores. During the winter in Florida and other tropical areas, they are commonly seen creeping about in the crowns of palms, probing among the fronds with their long bills.

adult male

Grace's Warbler

A young man named Elliott Coues, later to become a leading ornithologist, discovered this bird in Arizona in 1864; perhaps homesick, he asked that it be named after his sister. Grace's Warbler is still common in the Southwest as a summer resident in mountain forests. It spends most of its time high in pine trees, where the male sings his thin rising chatter and where the female builds a neat, cup-shaped nest among a cluster of pine needles.

adult male

Kirtland's Warbler

One of our rarest songbirds, Kirtland's is a relatively large warbler that forages slowly, close to the ground, wagging its tail up and down. It nests only in stands of young jack pines in central Michigan, a habitat that grows up only briefly after fires, and its nests have been heavily parasitized in recent decades by Brown-headed Cowbirds. Controlled burning to create more habitat, and control of cowbird numbers, have helped the warbler somewhat, but it is not necessarily out of danger yet.

adult male

Northern Parula

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.

adult male (breeding)

Blue-winged Warbler

The simple buzzy song of the Blue-winged Warbler is often heard in brushy overgrown fields and thickets in the East during the summer. Although the bird is not especially shy, it can be a challenge to observe as it forages actively in the dense brush. In recent decades this species has been expanding its range northward, encroaching on the territory of its close relative, the Golden-winged Warbler. The two species often interbreed.

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