Beak of the Week – Northern Parula

Northern Parula (Setophaga americana)

Family: Parulidae

By Jon Piasecki, Houston Audubon Conservation Technician

The Northern Parula is a tiny species of warbler that can be seen throughout the eastern half of the United States during the migration and breeding seasons. Adults have beautiful blue-gray wings, head and back, white eye-arcs, a greenish back patch and a yellow belly and chin patch. Adult males typically have a very distinct black and rufous breast band that separates the yellow of the chin and belly. Immature birds are usually a drab yellow or gray overall but can still have some of the adult features.

Northern Parulas are typically found foraging in the upper canopies of trees in forested areas. They are primarily insectivores and eat spiders, caterpillars, ants, and flies that they are able to catch on tree leaves. During the winter season, Northern Parulas may also eat berries if insects are scarce. This species can be tricky to see as sometimes they hop very quickly through the branches of trees while looking for their next meal.

Northern Parulas breed in older, mature forests rich with moss and lichen. Typically, females craft their nests using mosses that hang from the ends of tree branches. They form an opening on the side of the moss clump that will serve as an entrance to the nest and form a nest cup in the bottom of the moss using grasses or even pine needles. A typical clutch for Northern Parulas is 2-7 eggs that will hatch 2 weeks after being laid.

During migration, Northern Parulas may mix together with other warbler species to form foraging flocks that move through trees. There have already been sightings of Northern Parulas along the Texas coast this spring, including within our High Island sanctuaries! Be sure to keep an eye out for these stunning warblers.

 Visit our Bird Gallery to read about other Texas birds! 

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