Male. Note: gray head, white eye arcs, black/rufous breast band, and white belly.
  • Male. Note: gray head, white eye arcs, black/rufous breast band, and white belly.
  • Female. Note: slight eye arcs, yellow throat/breast, and green mantle.

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Northern Parula

Parula americana
Members of this diverse group make up more than half of the bird species worldwide. Most are small. However their brains are relatively large and their learning abilities are greater than those of most other birds. Passerine birds are divided into two suborders, the suboscines and the oscines. Oscines are capable of more complex song, and are considered the true songbirds. In Washington, the tyrant flycatchers are the only suboscines; the remaining 27 families are oscines.
This large group of small, brightly colored songbirds is a favorite of many birdwatchers. Wood-warblers, usually called “warblers” for short by Americans, are strictly a New World family. Most of the North American members of this group are migratory, returning in the winter to the tropics where the family originated. Warblers that nest in the understory tend to have pink legs and feet, while those that inhabit the treetops usually have black legs and feet. North American males are typically brightly colored, many with patches of yellow. Most North American warblers do not molt into a drab fall/winter plumage; the challenge posed to those trying to identify warblers in the fall results from looking at mostly juvenile birds. Their songs are generally dry, unmusical, often complex whistles (“warbles”). Warblers that live high in the treetops generally have higher-pitched songs than those that live in the understory. Warblers eat insects gleaned from foliage or captured in the air. Many supplement their insect diet with some seeds and fruit, primarily in fall and winter, and some also eat nectar. Most are monogamous. The female usually builds the nest and incubates four to five eggs for up to two weeks. Both members of the pair feed the young.

    General Description

    A short-tailed “eastern” warbler, the Northern Parula is predominantly bluish-gray with a greenish back, yellow throat and breast, white belly, white wingbars, and white crescents above and below the eye. Adults have a black-and-reddish breast band (more prominent in males). The Northern Parula breeds east of the Great Plains from southern Manitoba and the Gaspé Peninsula south to the Gulf Coast and winters in the West Indies, on the Gulf and Caribbean slope of Mexico, and in Central America.

    This species is a regular vagrant in the western United States, particularly in California, which has about 900 records of which about two-thirds have been in spring. Northern Parula is much rarer farther north. Oregon has close to 40 records—again, mostly in spring. Washington’s 11 accepted records show a different pattern, with ten of them spread rather evenly from 30 May to 7 September and the eleventh—the state’s first—remaining at Richland (Benton County) from 10 January to 3 February 1975. Nine of the 11 Washington records are from west of the Cascades. Idaho has about a dozen records, although only one has been reviewed and accepted by the state’s bird records committee. British Columbia has two or three.

    Revised August 2007

    North American Range Map

    North America map legend

    Federal Endangered Species ListAudubon/American Bird Conservancy Watch ListState Endangered Species ListAudubon Washington Vulnerable Birds List

    View full list of Washington State's Species of Special Concern