Few other warblers look or act like Palm Warblers, with their rusty cap, broad eyebrow stripe, and habit of wagging their tails. Prairie Warblers lack the rusty cap, strong eyebrow stripe, and brownish back of Palm Warbler. Cape May Warblers are grayish above (not brown) with white (not yellow) under the tail and without the Palm’s broad eyebrow. Yellow-rumped Warblers have yellow on the rump (above the tail) not under the tail as in Palm Warblers. A few other species, including Louisiana Waterthrush, Northern Waterthrush, and American Pipit, forage on the ground and wag or pump their tails, but they are plainer, streakier birds without the yellow tones of Palm Warbler.
Plumage of Palm Warblers is different on either side of James Bay which lies between Ontario and Quebec in Canada. Palm Warblers east of James Bay (“Yellow” Palm Warblers) have entirely yellow underparts with stronger rusty streaks on the breast and yellow eyebrows. Those west of James Bay (“Western” Palm Warblers) have whitish bellies, yellow undertails, and pale eyebrows. During the breeding season, “Western” Palm Warblers also have a yellow throat with some rusty streaks on the breast. "Western" Palm Warblers winter primarily in the Caribbean while "Yellow" Palm Warblers winter primarily along the Gulf Coast, but the two subspecies mix in the southeastern United States.
Create a bird friendly backyard for migrating or wintering Palm Warblers by planting native plants. Learn more about birdscaping at Habitat Network.
Find This Bird
Unless you live in Canada, spring, fall, and winter are your best times to see Palm Warblers. They spend the winters in the Caribbean and in a narrow strip along the southeastern United States and occasionally along the West Coast. They're a fairly common early migrant across much of the East, reaching New England by mid-to-late April. They start slowly heading south in late August. Weedy fields, forest edges, and scrubby areas are great places to look for them during migration and winter. Look through groups of birds foraging on the ground—they’re often with sparrows, juncos, and Yellow-rumped Warblers—so watch for their characteristic tail wagging to pull them out of the crowd. They also forage in low shrubs and isolated trees in open areas, where they sometimes sally out for insects like a flycatcher. Palm Warblers typically aren't skittish, so if you find one, you should have enough time to get a good look.
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