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Northern Parula


IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

A small warbler of the upper canopy, the Northern Parula can be found in two rather distinct populations. The southern population nests primarily in hanging Spanish moss, while the northern population uses the similar-looking old man's beard lichen.

At a GlanceHelp

Both Sexes
4.3–4.7 in
11–12 cm
6.3–7.1 in
16–18 cm
0.2–0.4 oz
5–11 g
Other Names
  • Parula Warbler
  • Paruline à collier, La Fauvette parula (French)
  • Verdin silvestre, Reinita pechidorada, Bijirita chica (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • The distribution of the Northern Parula has an unusual break north to south. It may formerly have nested in that zone, and was eradicated. Explanations for the disappearance may be changes in habitat or increasing air pollution, which limited the growth of epiphytes on trees that the warbler depended on for nesting.
  • Since the 1950s, Northern Parula has nested several times along the coastal region of northern California, far from the normal range.
  • The oldest recorded Northern Parula was a female, and at least 5 years, 11 months old, when she was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in Maryland.



Northern Parulas breed in mature forests along streams, swamps, and other bottomlands. They're closely associated with epiphytic plants that grow on the branches of canopy trees. In the southern U.S. they use Spanish moss; farther north they use beard moss. Key tree species include water, willow, and swamp chestnut oak, black gum, eastern hemlock, sugar and red maple, birches, and sycamore On its tropical wintering grounds, parulas use many habitat types including fields, pastures, scrub, woodland, and coffee, cacao, and citrus plantations.



Spiders and many kinds of insects, particularly caterpillars. Also eats beetles, moths, ants, wasps, bees, flies, locusts, and others. During the breeding season Northern Parulas also occasionally eat bud scales and on wintering grounds they sometimes eat berries, seeds, or nectar.


Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
2–7 eggs
Number of Broods
1-2 broods
Egg Length
0.6–0.7 in
1.5–1.8 cm
Egg Width
0.5–0.5 in
1.2–1.3 cm
Incubation Period
12–14 days
Nestling Period
10–11 days
Egg Description
White to creamy-white, speckled with of red, brown, purple, or gray.
Condition at Hatching
Helpless, eyes closed, with scant white down on head and back.
Nest Description

Females do most of the nest building, hollowing out a hanging mass of vegetation to create a side entrance and a cup. It is lined with additional epiphytes or hair, fine grasses, or pine needles. Nests are about 3 inches across and 2 inches deep. Nest building takes about 4 days. Where Spanish moss or other epiphytes are absent, Northern Parulas may make hanging nests from other materials or place a nest inside river debris that has been trapped high in branches during a flood.

Nest Placement


Nests are usually in a hanging clump of epiphytes like Spanish moss, beard moss, or lace lichen. They tend to be placed at the end of a branch and as high as 100 feet above the ground (making them quite difficult to study).


Foliage Gleaner

Northern Parulas forage by gleaning leaves and branch tips for insects and spiders. They fly with rapid wingbeats and hop quickly through branches. When acting defensively, parulas may demonstrate a wing-droop display, during which wingtips are held below the base of the tail as the bird calls.


status via IUCN

Least Concern

Northern Parula populations seem to be stable, and experienced a small increase between 1966 and 2014, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 13 million with 73% spending part of the year in the U.S., 56% in Mexico, and 27% breeding in Canada. They rate a 9 out of 20 on the Contiental Concern score, and are not listed in the 2014 State of the Birds Report. Migrating Northern Parulas regularly hit structures such as communication towers and are killed. The species uses epiphytic plants for nesting, and poor air quality in several northeastern states during the twentieth century seems to have affected Northern Parulas by depriving them of this resource. Pesticides used to combat spruce budworm in Canada's maritime provinces may also have caused local population declines. Clearcutting and the draining of bogs may have hurt populations in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Missouri. According to NatureServe, breeding populations are of particular concern in Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Newfoundland, Canada.


Range Map Help

Northern Parula Range Map
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bird image Blue-winged Warbler by Brian Sullivan

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