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Northern Parula
northern parulla
Northern Parula, photographed at Garden Key, Dry Tortugas National Park, Monroe County, in April 2017.
northern parula
 

The northern parula, Setophaga americana, is one of the few warblers to be seen year-round in the Sunshine State. Just not in the same part of the state year-round.

It is a winter visitor to South Florida, but the northern part of state is part of the northern parula's summer breeding grounds, which stretches northwards into Canada. And while fairly common, they're also in some ways a bit of a mystery. More on that in a bit. The dividing line in Florida between winter grounds and breeding grounds seems to be north of Lake Okeechobee, although there are some records of northern parulas nesting in Palm Beach and Martin counties.

Northern parulas are small birds, with a body length approaching five inches, and a wing span of about seven. They are mostly a blue-gray, with a prominent yellow patch on the throat and breast, with a horizontal black and red streak running through it. Northern parulas have a yellow patch on the back, and their bills are two-toned, black above, yellow below. The eyes have white patches above and below. The wings each have two prominent white bars. Both sexes are similar, but females are duller.

Their summer range covers most of the eastern United States, north into Canada. In winter, they'll retreat to South Florida, Mexico, Central America and parts of Caribbean. In summer, northern parulas are birds of the woods, preferring moist forests that have a mix of tree species. The moist part is important, because they nest in old man's beards lichens or Spanish moss, both of which require humity to thrive. In winter, they're less picky.

 
 
northern parula
 

Nesting season begins in March in the south, mid-May up north. Males select the nesting territory, but females chose the final site and build the nest. Placement is usually high into trees and at the end of a branch that extends over water, which is why despite their familiiarity, there are some things we don't quite know about this bird.

The nest itself is a pouch hanging pendulam-like in lichens up north or Spanish moss down south. Where neither is available, parulas will use hanging conifer needles. Clutches are usually four or five eggs that take about two weeks to incubate. Some sources say that both sexes handle sitting duties, though mostly by mom; others say that mom does all the sitting, with dad feeding her and standing guard over the territory and the nest. We've seen the same split on the male's involvement in feeding the offspring. As we said, there is a bit of mystery with this bird. It's believed that the hatchlings are nest-bound for less than two weeks before they fledge, but the length of the fledge period isn't certain. Breeding pairs sometimes return to the same nest site the following year.

The diet for northern parulas is mainly bugs, beetles, flies, ants, spiders and the like. They will dart after their prey, forage on the ground or will hover to pick a bug off a leaf. They'll also eat berries.

The northern parula population is considered secure, but air pollution, which can damage the habitats they require for nesting, is a potential threat. Northern parulas are members of parulidae, the warbler family. They're also known scientifically as Parula americana.

Photographs by David Sedore

 
     
     
 
Links for Northern Parula Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology National Audubon Society National Geographic Society
 
Unless otherwise stated, all photographs are property of the publishers and may not be used without their express permission.