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Palm Warbler

Setophaga palmarum ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: PARULIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

A warbler that doesn’t act like one, the Palm Warbler spends its time walking on the ground, wagging its tail up and down. This brownish-olive bird has a bright rusty cap and a bold pale eyebrow stripe. They breed mainly in Canada’s boreal forest, but most people see them during migration or on wintering grounds foraging in open areas. You may see two forms: an eastern subspecies that’s bright yellow below, and a more western subspecies with a pale belly.

At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
4.7–5.5 in
12–14 cm
Wingspan
7.9–8.3 in
20–21 cm
Weight
0.2–0.5 oz
7–13 g
Relative Size
Larger than a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, smaller than a Dark-eyed Junco.
Other Names
  • Paruline à couronne rousse (French)
  • Chipe playero (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • Though the Palm Warbler’s name might imply it is a tropical bird, it’s actually one of the northernmost breeding of all warblers (only the Blackpoll Warbler breeds farther north). They got their name from J. P. Gmelin who named them based on a specimen collected on Hispaniola, a Caribbean island with a lot of palm trees.
  • The subspecies of Palm Warbler in the East (“Yellow” Palm Warbler) migrates earlier in the spring than its western counterpart. “Yellow” Palm Warblers start moving north in early April and Western Palm Warblers start moving north shortly thereafter. The two subspecies of Palm Warbler also migrate along different routes in spring; the "Yellow" Palm Warbler travels east of the Appalachian Mountains while the "Western" Palm Warbler migrates through the Mississippi Valley. Watch them migrate on the eBird animated occurrence map.
  • Canada's boreal forests stretch for miles and miles. The great boreal forest, often called “North America’s bird nursery,” is the summer home to billions of migratory birds and an estimated 98% of all Palm Warblers.
  • The oldest known Palm Warbler was 6 years, 7 months old.

Habitat


Open Woodland

Palm Warblers breed in bogs and areas with scattered evergreen trees and thick ground cover in the boreal forest. During migration they stop in weedy fields, forest edges, fence rows, and other areas with scattered trees and shrubs. They use similar areas on the wintering grounds including second-growth forest patches, marshes, prairies, parks, and coastal scrub.

Food


Insects

Palm Warblers primarily eat insects including beetles, flies, and caterpillars. During the winter they also eat seeds and berries such as bayberry, sea grape, and hawthorn when available. They pick most insects from the ground or low shrubs, but they also nab a few insects in midair.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
4–5 eggs
Number of Broods
1 broods
Egg Length
0.6–0.7 in
1.6–1.9 cm
Egg Width
0.5–0.5 in
1.2–1.3 cm
Incubation Period
12 days
Nestling Period
12 days
Egg Description
White speckled with brown and lavender spots.
Condition at Hatching
Naked with patches of light brown down.
Nest Description

They build a cup-shaped nest out of grass, sedges, rootlets, and ferns. They line the inside of the nest with finer grasses, feathers, and hair. Nests are about 3–4.5 inches in diameter and 2 inches tall.

Nest Placement

Ground

Palm Warblers place their nests on the ground nestled in peat moss, usually at the base of a small tree or shrub. They also occasionally nest on or slightly above the ground in drier evergreen forests.

Behavior


Ground Forager

The Palm Warbler, unlike most warblers, spends a lot of time walking on the ground and bobbing its tail as it goes—an obvious trait whether the bird is on the ground or perched in a tree or shrub. Despite its affinity for the ground it also forages and sings from taller trees and shrubs. It sometimes sallies out to grab an insect from a low shrub or tree like a flycatcher. The male sings from high perches to establish its territory soon after arriving on the breeding grounds. He chases intruding males out of his territory and then sings from a high perch to proclaim ownership. Pairs form shortly after the male sets up his territory, typically from late April until the middle of May. The two birds stay together during the breeding season but split up afterwards. Pairs tend to keep themselves during the breeding season, but they join mixed-species foraging flocks with sparrows, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Pine Warblers, and Yellow-rumped Warblers during the nonbreeding season.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Palm Warblers are fairly common and their populations seem stable, though the species may have experienced a decline between 1966 and 2015, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey (although much of their breeding range lies north of the areas where the North American Breeding Bird Surveys take place). Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 13 million, with nearly 100% of the population breeding in Canada, 49% spending at least part of the year in the United States, and 7% wintering in Mexico. The species rates an 11 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and is not on the 2016 State of North America's Birds' Watch List. About 98% of all Palm Warblers breed in the vast boreal forest of Canada. This remote region is vulnerable to extractive industries such as peat harvesting, tar sands oil development, and logging, and in the long term to climate change. Palm Warblers are also one of the most frequently killed species at lighted towers across the United States. A TV tower in Florida caused the death of more than 1,800 Palm Warblers during a 25-year period.

Credits

Range Map Help

Palm Warbler Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Migration

Medium-distance migrant.

Backyard Tips

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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bird image Blue-winged Warbler by Brian Sullivan

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