My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Northern Parula, Setophaga americana

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Northern Parula, Setophaga americana

The Northern Parula is a small New World warbler. It breeds in eastern North America from southern Canada to Florida. This species is migratory, wintering in southern Florida, northern Central America, the West Indies and most of the Lesser Antilles. This species is a very rare vagrant to western Europe.

The Northern Parula is one of the smaller Northern migratory warblers, often being one of the smallest birds in a mixed feeding flock besides kinglets or gnatcatchers. Length is 10.8 to 12.4 cm (4.3 to 4.9 in), wingspan is 16 to 18 cm (6.3 to 7.1 in) and body mass is 5 to 11 g (0.18 to 0.39 oz). Among standard measurements, the wing chord is 5.1 to 6.5 cm (2.0 to 2.6 in), the tail is 3.7 to 4.5 cm (1.5 to 1.8 in), the bill is 0.8 to 1.1 cm (0.31 to 0.43 in) and the tarsus is 1.5 to 1.8 cm (0.59 to 0.71 in). This species has mainly blue-gray upper parts, with a greenish back patch and two white wing bars. The breast is yellowish shading into the white belly. The summer male has bluish and rufous breast bands and prominent white eye crescents. At the end of the breeding season, individuals molt into a duller version of the breeding plumage. Females are similar-looking but tend to be duller and lack the breast bands. The unique breastband fades in males and may disappear altogether in females.

Their song is a click-like trill or buzz, zeeeeee-yip. Their call is a soft chip.

The Northern Parula inhabits various habitats depending on season and location. This is primarily a forest-dwelling species, but the northern and southern breeding populations select different habitats. In general, abundance of this species has been found to be positively correlated with increased tree species diversity, canopy height, and percent canopy cover. Northern populations breed in mature, moist coniferous forests. This species constructs its pendulum nests in hanging vegetation and so it is often attracted to suspended clumps of moss or coniferous twigs that are more abundant in moist spruce bogs or hemlock swamps. Southern populations breed in mature, moist, bottomland forest where Spanish moss is prevalent. Outside of the breeding season, the Northern Parula becomes more of a habitat generalist and may be found in a wide variety of habitats during migration and winter. These habitats may include: pastures; moist, dry or wet forests; and agricultural fields or plantations.

This is a monogamous species, however, a few cases of polygamy have been reported. Southern populations can start breeding as soon as March but to the north of the range, the species does not nest until May. The breeding habitat is humid woodland with growths of Old Man’s Beard lichen or Spanish moss. Northern Parulas nest in trees in clumps of these mosses, laying 3–7 eggs in a scantily lined cup nest. Sites located near water sources are preferred and many nests are found at the end of branches suspended over water. Due to their longer breeding season, southern parulas frequently raise two broods, as opposed to northern ones who raise only one. The female hollows out a clump of vegetation in the moss and proceeds to fill the cavity with vegetation fibers, animal hair, grass, or pine needles. These nests average 7 cm (2.8 in) in outside diameter. The incubation period typically lasts 12 to 14 days and the young fledge at 10 to 11 days. Breeding maturity is attained the following year.

The Northern Parula forages mostly or entirely on terrestrial invertebrates. Prey items include spiders, damselflies, locusts, bugs, grasshoppers, aphids, beetles, caterpillars, flies, wasps, bees, and ants. Regardless of season, caterpillars and spiders are consumed most often. During the winter, the Northern Parula consumes more beetles and occasionally forages on berries, seeds, and nectar. This species primarily captures prey from vegetation by a hover-glean method, however this species is versatile in using a variety of foraging methods. It may make short flights from a perch to snatch prey in mid-flight or even hang upside-down to forage. It is most often seen foraging in the mid- to upper canopy levels of vegetation. Though most foraging activity occurs in arboreal vegetation, this species occasionally forages on or around the ground as well.

On to my photos:

 

Northern Parula, Setophaga americana

Northern Parula, Setophaga americana

Northern Parula

Northern Parula

Northern parula

Northern parula

Northern parula

Northern parula

Northern parula

Northern parula

Northern Parula, Setophaga americana

Northern Parula, Setophaga americana

Northern Parula, Setophaga americana

Northern Parula, Setophaga americana

Northern Parula, Setophaga americana

Northern Parula, Setophaga americana

Northern Parula, Setophaga americana

Northern Parula, Setophaga americana

This is number 159 in my photo life list, only 191 to go!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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10 responses

  1. I’d never heard of this bird. Congrats on another addition to your life list!

    June 5, 2014 at 2:53 am

    • Thank you! I hadn’t heard of it until about two years ago, they are supposed to be difficult to photograph, even though it is common in the north woods.

      June 5, 2014 at 3:05 am

  2. I am ignorant about birds but love looking at your pictures. Perhaps I will eventually remember what I have seen?

    June 5, 2014 at 3:54 am

    • Thanks Susan, I don’t know if you’ll remember them, but taking the photos helps me to remember.

      June 5, 2014 at 10:17 am

  3. What a pretty little bird! Congratulations on managing to photograph it and adding it to your list.

    June 5, 2014 at 4:52 am

    • Thanks Clare!

      June 5, 2014 at 10:18 am

  4. Other than here on your blog I’ve never heard of this one. You got some nice shots of them!

    June 5, 2014 at 6:11 am

    • Thanks Allen! I’d never heard of them either, until I began talking to serious birders, and heard how hard it is to get a good photo of them. I’m either really lucky, or really good, I lean towards lucky. 😉

      June 5, 2014 at 10:22 am

  5. Aren’t they the coolest though? I love their colors. Wonderful post Jerry!

    June 6, 2014 at 7:43 am

    • Thanks Emily!

      June 6, 2014 at 9:29 am