Be Your Own Birder

Discover the Palm Warbler

The name palm warbler conjures images of a tropical songbird, but it’s actually a misnomer for this small bird. But there’s much more to the palm warbler than just its name!

Palm Warbler With Lunch - Photo by Simon Stobart
Palm Warbler With Lunch – Photo by Simon Stobart

Palm Warbler Fun Facts

  • The palm warbler (Setophaga palmarum) is a member of the Parulidae family of New World warblers, which also includes more than 120 other species of warblers, parulas, yellowthroats, and whitestarts.
  • Despite being named for a tropical tree, the palm warbler actually spends most of its foraging time walking and hopping on the ground, bobbing its tail and plucking at insects.
  • Two alternative names for the palm warbler are the wagtail warbler and the tip-up warbler – both names represent the unique tail bobbing and pumping behavior that is so characteristic of these birds. Other names for the palm warbler include the redpoll warbler and yellow palm warbler.
  • There are two palm warbler subspecies, the yellow eastern subspecies with much more colorful underparts, and the paler western subspecies with less overall color. At some point, the species might be split into two distinct birds, but more study is needed to confirm their uniqueness.
  • The palm warbler was named when the first specimen of the bird was collected on Hispaniola (which features many palm trees), but this warbler is actually one of the northernmost breeding warblers in North America.
  • Palm warblers are early migrants and can be on the move up to two months before other warblers start to migrate in spring. This makes palm warblers a great indicator of the changing season and the return of many other birds.
  • These are extremely variable birds, and have a great range of color intensity. Summer birds are brightest while winter birds are typically duller, but there are many shades in between.
Yellow Palm Warbler - Photo by Laura Wolf
Yellow Palm Warbler – Photo by Laura Wolf

Adding the Palm Warbler to Your Life List

In the right regions, this bird is easy to see. During the breeding season from spring through early fall, they’re common in the boreal forests of Canada, particularly in boggy areas or where cedar and spruce trees are scattered. Winter is often the easiest time to see these birds, however, when they’re widespread in the Caribbean, Central America, and in the southeastern United States. Watch for these small, flitting, tail-bobbing birds in yards, weedy fields, and scrubby edges such as along fences and hedges. That characteristic tail-bob or pumping is a key for easy identification, and these warblers may join mixed flocks with kinglets, sparrows, and other warblers.

Learn More About the Palm Warbler

There’s always more to learn about any bird, even a birds already as familiar as the palm warbler. Start with these great resources…

Dull Palm Warbler - Photo by Ekaterina Chernetsova (Papchinskaya)
Dull Palm Warbler – Photo by Ekaterina Chernetsova (Papchinskaya)

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