Photo: Garth McElroy/Vireo

Northern Parula

Setophaga americana

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.
Conservation status Still widespread and common, numbers apparently stable.
Family Wood Warblers
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.
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.
Photo Gallery
  • adult male
  • adult female
  • adult male
  • immature female (1st winter)
  • immature (1st winter)
  • adult male
  • adult female
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.


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.

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.


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.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Migration

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.

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Migration

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.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
1 or more rising buzzy notes dropping abruptly at the end, bzzzzz-zip or bz-bz-bz-zip.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.