Skip to Content
Abert’s Towhee Acadian Flycatcher Acorn Woodpecker Alder Flycatcher Allen’s Hummingbird Altamira Oriole American Avocet American Bittern American Black Duck American Coot American Crow American Dipper American Golden-Plover American Goldfinch American Kestrel American Oystercatcher American Pipit American Redstart American Robin American Three-toed Woodpecker American Tree Sparrows American White Pelican American Wigeon American Woodcock Anhinga Anna’s Hummingbird Arctic Tern Arizona Woodpecker Ash-Throated Flycatcher Atlantic Puffin Audubon’s Oriole Bachman’s Sparrow Baird’s Sandpiper Baird’s Sparrow Bald Eagle Baltimore Oriole Band-tailed Pigeon Bank Swallow Barn Owl Barn Swallow Barred Owl Barrow’s Goldeneye Bay-breasted Warbler Bell’s Vireo Belted Kingfisher Bendire’s Thrasher Bewick’s Wren Black Guillemot Black Oystercatcher Black Phoebe Black Rail Black Rosy-Finch Black Scoter Black Skimmer Black Swift Black Tern Black Turnstone Black Vulture Black-and-white Warbler Black-backed Woodpecker Black-bellied Plover Black-bellied Whistling-Duck Black-billed Cuckoo Black-billed Magpie Black-capped Chickadee Black-capped Vireo Black-chinned Hummingbird Black-chinned Sparrow Black-crested Titmouse Black-crowned Night-Heron Black-footed Albatross Black-headed Grosbeak Black-legged Kittiwake Black-necked Stilt Black-throated Blue Warbler Black-throated Gray Warbler Black-throated Green Warbler Black-throated Sparrow Blackburnian Warbler Blackpoll Warbler Blue Grosbeak Blue Jay Blue-footed Booby Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Blue-headed Vireo Blue-throated Hummingbird Blue-winged Teal Blue-winged Warbler Boat-tailed Grackle Bobolink Bohemian Waxwing Bonaparte’s Gull Boreal Chickadee Boreal Owl Botteri’s Sparrow Brandt’s Cormorant Brant Brewer’s Blackbird Brewer’s Sparrow Bridled Titmouse Broad-billed Hummingbird Broad-tailed Hummingbird Broad-winged Hawk Bronzed Cowbird Brown Booby Brown Creeper Brown Pelican Brown Thrasher Brown-capped Rosy-Finch Brown-headed Cowbird Brown-headed Nuthatch Buff-bellied Hummingbird Buff-breasted Flycatcher Buff-breasted Sandpiper Bufflehead Bullock’s Oriole Burrowing Owl Bushtit Cackling Goose Cactus Wren California Condor California Gull California Quail California Thrasher California Towhee Calliope Hummingbird Canada Goose Canada Jay (Previously Gray Jay) Canada Warbler Canvasback Canyon Towhee Canyon Wren Cape May Warbler Carolina Chickadee Carolina Wren Caspian Tern Cassin’s Auklet Cassin’s Finch Cassin’s Kingbird Cassin’s Sparrow Cassin’s Vireo Cattle Egret Cave Swallow Cedar Waxwing Cerulean Warbler Chestnut-backed Chickadee Chestnut-collared Longspur Chestnut-sided Warbler Chihuahuan Raven Chimney Swift Chipping Sparrow Chuck-will’s-widow Chukar Cinnamon Teal Clapper Rail Clark’s Grebe Clark’s Nutcracker Clay-colored Sparrow Cliff Swallow Colima Warbler Common Eider Common Gallinule Common Goldeneye Common Grackle Common Ground-Dove Common Loon Common Merganser Common Murre Common Nighthawk Common Pauraque Common Poorwill Common Raven Common Redpoll Common Tern Common Yellowthroat Connecticut Warbler Cooper’s Hawk Cordilleran Flycatcher Costa’s Hummingbird Couch’s Kingbird Crescent-chested Warbler Crested Caracara Crissal Thrasher Curve-billed Thrasher Dark-eyed Junco Dickcissel Double-crested Cormorant Dovekie Downy Woodpecker Dunlin Dusky Flycatcher Dusky Grouse Eared Grebe Eastern Bluebird Eastern Kingbird Eastern Meadowlark Eastern Phoebe Eastern Screech-Owl Eastern Towhee Eastern Whip-poor-will Eastern Wood-Pewee Elegant Tern Elf Owl Emperor Goose Eurasian Collared-Dove Eurasian Tree Sparrow Eurasian Wigeon European Starling Evening Grosbeak Ferruginous Hawk Field Sparrow Fish Crow Flammulated Owl Florida Scrub-Jay Forster’s Tern Fox Sparrow Franklin’s Gull Fulvous Whistling-Duck Gadwall Gambel’s Quail Gila Woodpecker Gilded Flicker Glaucous Gull Glaucous-winged Gull Glossy Ibis Golden Eagle Golden-cheeked Warbler Golden-crowned Kinglet Golden-crowned Sparrow Golden-crowned Warbler Golden-fronted Woodpecker Golden-winged Warbler Grace’s Warbler Grasshopper Sparrow Gray Catbird Gray Flycatcher Gray Kingbird Gray Partridge Gray Vireo Gray-cheeked Thrush Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch Great Black-backed Gull Great Blue Heron Great Cormorant Great Crested Flycatcher Great Egret Great Gray Owl Great Horned Owl Great Kiskadee Great-tailed Grackle Greater Pewee Greater Prairie-Chicken Greater Roadrunner Greater Sage-Grouse Greater Scaup Greater White-fronted Goose Greater Yellowlegs Green Heron Green Jay Green-tailed-towhee Green-winged Teal Groove-billed Ani Gull-billed Tern Gunnison Sage-Grouse Gyrfalcon Hairy Woodpecker Hammond’s Flycatcher Harlequin Duck Harris’s Hawk Harris’s Sparrow Heermann’s Gull Henslow’s Sparrow Hepatic Tanager Hermit Thrush Hermit Warbler Herring Gull Hoary Redpoll Hooded Merganser Hooded Oriole Hooded Warbler Horned Grebe Horned Lark Horned Puffin House Finch House Sparrow House Wren Hudsonian Godwit Hutton’s Vireo Inca Dove Indigo Bunting Ivory-billed Woodpecker Juniper Titmouse Kentucky Warbler Killdeer King Eider King Rail Kirtland’s Warbler Ladder-backed Woodpecker Lapland Longspur Lark Bunting Lark Sparrow Laughing Gull Lawrence’s Goldfinch Lazuli Bunting Le Conte’s Sparrow Le Conte’s Thrasher Least Bittern Least Flycatcher Least Grebe Least Sandpiper Least Tern Lesser Black-backed Gull Lesser Goldfinch Lesser Prairie-Chicken Lesser Scaup Lesser Yellowlegs Lewis’s Woodpecker Limpkin Lincoln’s Sparrow Little Blue Heron Loggerhead Shrike Long-billed Curlew Long-billed Dowitcher Long-eared Owl Long-tailed Duck Louisiana Waterthrush Lucifer Hummingbird Lucy’s Warbler MacGillivray’s Warbler Magnificent Frigatebird Magnificent Hummingbird Magnolia Warbler Mallard Mangrove Cuckoo Marbled Godwit Marsh Wren Masked Duck McCown’s Longspur Merlin Mew Gull Mexican Jay Mississippi Kite Montezuma Quail Mottled Duck Mountain Bluebird Mountain Chickadee Mountain Plover Mountain Quail Mourning Dove Mourning Warbler Mute Swan Nashville Warbler Neotropic Cormorant Northern Bobwhite Northern Cardinal Northern Flicker Northern Fulmar Northern Gannet Northern Goshawk Northern Harrier Northern Hawk Owl Northern Mockingbird Northern Parula Northern Pintail Northern Rough-winged Swallow Northern Saw-whet Owl Northern Shoveler Northern Shrike Northern Waterthrush Northwestern Crow Nuttall’s Woodpecker Oak Titmouse Olive-sided Flycatcher Orange-crowned Warbler Orchard Oriole Osprey Ovenbird Pacific Golden-Plover Pacific Loon Pacific-slope Flycatcher Painted Bunting Painted Redstart Palm Warbler Pectoral Sandpiper Pelagic Cormorant Peregrine Falcon Phainopepla Philadelphia Vireo Pied-billed Grebe Pigeon Guillemot Pileated Woodpecker Pine Grosbeak Pine Siskin Pine Warbler Pinyon Jay Piping Plover Plain Chachalaca Plumbeous Vireo Prairie Falcon Prairie Warbler Prothonotary Warbler Purple Finch Purple Gallinule Purple Martin Purple Sandpiper Pygmy Nuthatch Pyrrhuloxia Razorbill Red Crossbill Red Knot Red Phalarope Red-bellied Woodpecker Red-breasted Merganser Red-breasted Nuthatch Red-breasted Sapsucker Red-cockaded Woodpecker Red-eyed Vireo Red-faced Warbler Red-headed Woodpecker Red-naped Sapsucker Red-necked Grebe Red-necked Phalarope Red-shouldered Hawk Red-tailed Hawk Red-throated Loon Red-winged Blackbird Reddish Egret Redhead Ring-billed Gull Ring-necked Duck Ring-necked Pheasant Rock Pigeon Rock Ptarmigan Rock Sandpiper Rose-breasted Grosbeak Roseate Spoonbill Roseate Tern Ross’s Goose Rough-legged Hawk Royal Tern Ruby-crowned Kinglet Ruby-throated Hummingbird Ruddy Duck Ruddy Turnstone Ruffed Grouse Rufous Hummingbird Rufous-capped Warbler Rufous-winged Sparrow Rusty Blackbird Sabine’s Gull Sage Sparrow Sage Thrasher Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow Sanderling Sandhill Crane Sandwich Tern Savannah Sparrow Say’s Phoebe Scaled Quail Scarlet Tanager Scissor-tailed Flycatcher Scott’s Oriole Seaside Sparrow Sedge Wren Semipalmated Plover Semipalmated Sandpiper Sharp-shinned Hawk Sharp-tailed Grouse Short-billed Dowitcher Short-eared Owl Slate-throated Redstart Smith’s Longspur Smooth-billed Ani Snail Kite Snow Bunting Snow Goose Snowy Egret Snowy Plover Solitary Sandpiper Song Sparrow Sooty Grouse Sora Spotted Owl Spotted Sandpiper Spotted Towhee Sprague’s Pipit Spruce Grouse Steller’s Jay Stilt Sandpiper Summer Tanager Surf Scoter Surfbird Swainson’s Hawk Swainson’s Thrush Swainson’s Warbler Swallow-tailed Kite Swamp Sparrow Tennessee Warbler Thick-billed Murre Townsend’s Solitaire Townsend’s Warbler Tree Swallow Tricolored Heron Tropical Kingbird Trumpeter Swan Tufted Puffin Tufted Titmouse Tundra Swan Turkey Vulture Upland Sandpiper Varied Bunting Varied Thrush Vaux’s Swift Veery Verdin Vermilion Flycatcher Vesper Sparrow Violet-green Swallow Virginia Rail Virginia’s Warbler Warbling Vireo Western Bluebird Western Grebe Western Gull Western Kingbird Western Sandpiper Western Screech-Owl Western Tanager Western Wood-Pewee Western-Meadowlark Whimbrel White Ibis White-breasted Nuthatch White-crowned Pigeon White-crowned Sparrow White-eyed Vireo White-faced Ibis White-headed Woodpecker White-rumped Sandpiper White-tailed Hawk White-tailed Kite White-tailed Ptarmigan White-throated Sparrow White-throated Swift White-tipped Dove White-winged Crossbill White-winged Dove White-winged Scoter Whooping Crane Wild Turkey Willet Williamson’s Sapsucker Willow Flycatcher Willow Ptarmigan Wilson’s Phalarope Wilson’s Plover Wilson’s Snipe Wilson’s Warbler Winter Wren Wood Duck Wood Stork Wood Thrush Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay Worm-eating Warbler Wrentit Yellow Rail Yellow Warbler Yellow-bellied Flycatcher Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Yellow-billed Cuckoo Yellow-billed Magpie Yellow-breasted Chat Yellow-crowned Night-Heron Yellow-headed Blackbird Yellow-rumped Warbler Yellow-throated Vireo Yellow-throated Warbler Zone-tailed Hawk

Northern Parula

These small birds are known for their sharp singing skills.

The Northern Parula is a small wood warbler, found in upper canopies of trees and flutters at the ends of branches catching insects. These birds breed in forests full of beard lichens or Spanish moss.

It jumps through branches while vocalizing an increasing buzzy trill that cuts off at the end.

During migration, the Northern Parula forages in the lower portions of the forest; they also sing a lot during migration, so be sure to listen for their distinctive buzzy trill.

 

Breeding Male

Adult male Northern Parulas have 2 white wing bars, a greenish-yellow patch on the back, and are bluish-gray overall. In addition, they have a chestnut band that separates the male’s bright yellow chest and throat.

The Northern Parula is 4.3 to 4.7 inches (11 to 12 centimeters) long and weighs 0.2 to 0.4 ounces (5 to 11 grams). For reference, that makes them smaller than Red-eyed Vireos and larger than Ruby-crowned Kinglets.

Male Northern Parula

 

Female

Adult female Nothern Parulas look very similar to male Northern Parulas. However, they typically lack the male’s breast band and are slightly paler. Both adult males and females have distinct white eye crescents. They’re the same size and length.

Female Northern Parula

Female Northern Parula. Photograph © Greg Lavaty.

 

Juvenile

Juvenile Northern Parulas lack the chestnut breast band and are paler than adults. It takes 12 to 14 days for Northern Paruals to hatch.

Both parents will feed the young after they hatch, and the age at which they leave the nest is unknown.

 

Habitat

These birds breed in mature forests along swamps, streams, and other bottomlands. They’re closely associated with lichens or mosses that grow on canopy tree branches.

In the southeastern portions of the United States, they use Spanish moss; in the farther north portions, they use beard moss, a type of lichen. Key tree species include willow, swamp chestnut oak, water, black gum, sugar maple, red maple, sycamore, birches, and eastern hemlock.

Northern Parula

Photograph © Greg Lavaty.

On their wintering grounds, Northern Parulas use a variety of habitats like pastures, fields, woodland, scrub, cacao, citrus, and coffee plantations.

 

Diet

Northern Parulas eat many kinds of insects and spiders. They particularly enjoy caterpillars. They’ll also consume moths, beetles, ants, bees, wasps, locusts, flies, and others.

During their breeding season, they’ll sometimes eat bud scales; on their wintering grounds, they’ll consume seeds, nectar, or berries. This can be tricky if you would like to attract these birds to your yard.

Northern Parulas rarely visit bird feeders because their diets mainly consist of insects. However, they’re very attracted to water, so migrating birds will be happy to use a bird bath if you have one.

 

Behavior

Northern Parulas hop swiftly through branches and fly with rapid wingbeats. They forage by gleaning branch tips and leaves for spiders and insects.

northern parula

When acting defensively, Northern Parulas droop their wings, hold their wingtips below the base of the tail, and make vocalizations. These birds usually travel alone or in pairs on their breeding grounds.

However, they will form mixed-species flocks with other warbler species on the wintering grounds and during migration.

 

Range (and seasonal changes)

Northern Parulas are long-distance migrants. They spend the winter months in the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America. These birds have a weird break in their breeding range.

They breed from the boreal forest of Canada to North Florida, but they skip parts of Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, and some states in the northeastern portions of the U.S.

 

Wing shape

Northern Paruals have short, broad wings and triangular wing bars that stand out against blue-and-green upper parts. They have a wingspan of 6.3 to 7.1 inches (16 to 18 centimeters).

 

Fun Facts

  • The oldest Northern Parula lived to be at least 5 years and 11 months old. It was a female, and she was initially captured during banding operations. However, she was recaptured and let go in Maryland.
  • While both male and female Northern Parulas feed their young, the males participate in this role more than the females.
  • These birds have a weird gap in where they breed. They breed from Canada’s Boreal Forests to North Florida, but they skip parts of Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, and some states in the northeastern portions of the U.S.
  • Birds in the eastern part of their range sound unrelated to those in the western part of their range. Eastern birds sing shorter, more buzzy songs.
  • Northern Parulas are fairly solitary birds when breeding; however, they will join mixed-species flocks during migration.

 

Call

Northern Parulas vocalize 2 different types of songs. Their most common one is a rising buzzy trill with a final sharp note. This song increases and sharply finishes. The second song has notable pauses in between periods of the rising buzzy trill.

Male Northern Parulas are the main vocalists, but females will occasionally sing. These birds frequently sing while hopping between branches in the middle to upper levels of the forest canopy.

Male and female Northern Parulas give a sharp chip while foraging and aggressive encounters.

 

Similar Species

 

Pine Warbler

Pine Warbler

Pine Warbler

Compared to Northern Parulas, Pine Warblers are more yellow in color. The two have similar wings, but Northern Parulas have more grayish tones on their uppersides.

The two birds have similar ranges, but the Pine Warbler is resident in southeastern parts of the U.S.

Pine Warblers are a tiny bit bigger in size.

 

Canada Warbler

Canada Warbler. Photograph © Glenn Bartley.

Canada Warbler

When it comes to Canada Warblers, they have dark gray upperparts and yellow undersides, with some stripes on the upper side of their chests. That gives them a darker complexion than the Nothern Parulas.

Northern Parulas are a bit smaller than Canada Warblers. The two share a slight overlap in their ranges in the eastern side of North America.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

How common is a Northern Parula?

Northern Parulas are very common birds. They’re widespread and have a stable population. In fact, their estimated global population is 18 million.

What does a Northern Parula look like?

Adult male Northern Parulas have 2 white wing bars, a yellow-green patch on the back, and are bluish-gray overall. They have a chestnut band that separates the male’s bright yellow chest and throat. Adult female Nothern Parulas look very similar to adult male Northern Parulas. However, they lack the male’s breast band and are slightly paler. In addition, both adult males and females have distinct white eye crescents. Juvenile Northern Parulas lack the chestnut breast band and are duller than adults.

Do Northern Parulas migrate?

Yes, Northern Parulas migrate. They are long-distance migrants. They spend the winter months in the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America. They breed from the boreal forest of Canada to North Florida, but they skip parts of Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, and some states in the northeastern portions.

About the Author

Brianna Goulet

Brianna loves to get outdoors for everything creative and fun. She has a passion for birds and is a hobbyist wildlife photographer based in Central Florida. Her goal is to share everything you need to know about birds so you can get out there, explore, and identify confidently!

Let others know your thoughts or ask an expert

Would you like to get new articles of birds (Once a month?)

No SPAM! We might only send you fresh updates once a month

Thank you for subscribing!

No thanks! I prefer to follow BirdZilla on Facebook