The spring birding affliction sometimes called “warbler neck” due to how far one’s neck must be tipped back to observe warblers in the treetops does not apply to the Palm Warbler. They spend much time on the ground while foraging, but also occur in low shrubs. Breeding Palm Warblers have eastern and western subspecies, though in the winter the two groups share part of their range.
The two subspecies of Palm Warbler have slightly different migration timing with regard to season, though both are nocturnal migrants and often migrate in small groups. Female Palm Warblers tend to winter farther south than males
On this page
Description of the Palm Warbler
The breeding plumage Palm Warbler has grayish-brown upperparts, a dark eye line, a rufous red crown, and yellow undertail coverts. Eastern birds are bright yellow below, while western birds have only a yellow throat and undertail coverts. Both have reddish streaks on the underparts.
Seasonal change in appearance
Fall and winter birds are much duller, with less yellow on the underparts and a brownish crown.
Immatures are similar to fall adults.
Palm Warblers inhabit bogs with scattered tress, and arid pine barrens, though in migration they are found in hedgerows and near water.
Palm Warblers eat insects and berries.Prairie Warblers forage both on the ground and in trees and shrubs. They almost constantly bob their tails.
Often forages low for insects.
Palm Warblers breed across much of central and southern Canada, as well as the northeastern U.S. They winter along the Gulf Coast, the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America. The population is stable or increasing.
Bent Life History
Visit the Bent Life History for extensive additional information on the Palm Warbler.
Like Yellow Warblers, Palm Warblers bury cowbird eggs by building a new nest layer on top of them.
Palm Warblers migrate earlier in the spring than most warblers.
The song is a series of buzzy notes ascending in pitch. A “sink” flight call is also given.
- Prairie Warbler
Prairie Warblers are more heavily streaked on sides and have a different facial pattern.
The Palm Warbler’s nest is a cup of bark fibers and grasses and is lined with feathers. It is placed on the ground or near the trunk of a small spruce tree.
Number: Usually lay 4-5 eggs.
Color: Whitish with darker markings.
Incubation and fledging:
The young hatch at about 12 days and fledge at about 12 days, though remaining dependent on the adults for some time.
Bent Life History of the Palm Warbler
Published by the Smithsonian Institution between the 1920s and the 1950s, the Bent life history series of monographs provide an often colorful description of the birds of North America. Arthur Cleveland Bent was the lead author for the series. The Bent series is a great resource and often includes quotes from early American Ornithologists, including Audubon, Townsend, Wilson, Sutton and many others.
Bent Life History for the Palm Warbler – the common name and sub-species reflect the nomenclature in use at the time the description was written.
DENDROICA PALMARUM PALMARUM (Gmelin)
Charles Lucien Bonaparte (1832) remarks: “This is one of those lively, transient visitants, which, coming in spring from warmer regions, pass through the middle states, on their way to still colder and more northern countries, to breed. From the scarcity of the species, its passage has hitherto been unobserved; and it is now, for the first time, introduced as a bird of the United States. Authors who have heretofore made mention of it, represent it as a permanent resident of St. Domingo, and other islands of the West Indies, and even describe its nest and habits, as observed there.”
Bonaparte evidently did not notice the difference between the western and the yellow palm warblers, perhaps assuming that the latter was the spring plumage and the former the winter bird. It remained for Ridgway (1876) to point out the differences and separate the two subspecies. This is not strange, for the western bird is known to us mainly as a migrant and winter resident, its summer home being in central Canada, with a southward extension into northern Minnesota and Wisconsin. The 1931 A. 0. U. Check-List does not include Wisconsin in its breeding range, but Francis Zirrer writes to me that it “is not overly rare during the summer” near Hayward, Wis. “Here the bird is a dweller in the cedar-tamarack-spruce bogs, and from its arrival in spring (early May) until its departure in fall (early October) it is rarely seen anywhere else. Probably because of this, because of the scarcity of interested observers, and because of the fact that high water in spring and early summer makes our bogs not easily accessible, the bird has more or less escaped the attention of Wisconsin ornithologists. After its arrival I see it feeding mostly in cedars and black spruces; later, when the tamaracks sprout new green, most of its searching for food is done there. Toward the end of August, when the breeding season is over and until its departure, it visits other trees, especially poplars, but even then only those close to the bog.”
A. L. Rand (1944) records it as “a common summer resident, breeding, in northeastern British Columbia, 150 to 160 miles northwest of Fort Nelson along the Alaska Highway.” He also mentions a specimen in the National Museum at Ottawa, “taken at Bernard Harbor, Dolphin and Union Straits, Sept. 28, 1915 by Fritz Johansen.”
Spring: The migration routes of the two races of the palm warbler are interesting. The yellow palm spends the winter in the Gulf States and crosses the more southern Alleghenies to migrate northward along the At] antic coast to northern New England and southern Canada, while the western palm, leaving its winter home in Florida and the West Indies, crosses the Alleghenies in the opposite direction seldom as far north as the Carolinas, and migrates northward through the broad Mississippi Valley to Canada. Casual wanderers have, of course, occurred outside of these limits, but the main routes are as outlined. In Illinois, according to Ridgway (1889), “during the spring migration this is one of the most abundant of the Warblers, and for a brief season may be seen along the fences, or the borders of fields, usually near or on the ground, walking in a graceful, gliding manner, like an Anthus or Sejurus, the body tilting and the tail oscillating at each step. For this reason it is sometimes, and not inappropriately called Wag-tail Warbler.”
Nesting: The main breeding grounds of the western palm warbler are in central Canada, where only a few nests have been found. Probably the first recorded nest is the one mentioned by Ridgway (1889) in this brief statement: “Mr. Kennicott found a nest at Fort Resolution, in Arctic America. It was on the ground, on a hummock, at the foot of a small spruce tree in a swamp. When discovered (June 18), it contained five young.”
In more recent years nests have been found in Alberta. A. D. Henderson writes to me: “The western palm warbler is a scarce breeder in the muskegs in the vicinity of Belvedere. Richard C. Harlow took a nest and five eggs in the moss of a muskeg on June 12, 1923. I was with Dick Harlow and Dick Rauch on June 11, 1924, in a muskeg when Rauch flushed a western palm warbler from a nest and five eggs. On June 16, 1924, Harlow took a nest and five eggs near the place he took the nest in 1923.” Harlow tells me that his nest of June 11, 1924, was taken 12 miles west of Belvedere in a dry muskeg among scattered spruces and tamaracks. It was very well concealed at the base of a spruce seedling under a clump of dry grass growing near the top of a large hummock of sphagnum moss. The female flushed at about 2 feet, and the five eggs were three-quarters incubated. The nest was constructed of plant fibres, fine dry grass, and fine bark shreds, and was lined with feathers of the gray ruffed grouse.
Dr. L. H. Walkinshaw (MS.) reports a nest found at Fawcett, Alberta, “built a short distance from a bordering brushy area, in the sphagnum moss of the muskeg country, sunken into the moss at the base of a small dwarf birch.” And a set of five eggs in the Doe Museum in Florida, was taken by T. E. Randall at Grassland, Alberta, on May 23, 1938, from a nest “a few inches from the ground in a tiny spruce.”
Dr. T. S. Roberts (1936) mentions six cases of actual, or probable, nesting of the western palm warbler in northern Minnesota, and shows a photograph of a nest in Aitkin County. And Zirrer’s notes show conclusively that the species breeds in northern Wisconsin.
Eggs: The palm warbler lays 4 or 5 eggs; apparently 5 eggs are fully as common as 4. The eggs are ovate, sometimes tending toward short-ovate or elongate-ovate. They are only slightly glossy. The ground color is white or creamy white, and they are spotted, speckled or blotched with “chestnut,” “bay,” “auburn,” or “Brussels brown,” with undertones of “brownish drab” or “light Quaker drab.” They vary from eggs delicately sprinkled to thost r.~7½d with lar’~e blotches and/or a few scrawls of black. Generally the spots are concentrated and form a wreath around the large end. The eggs of one set in the Museum of Comparative Zoology are creamy white, very delicately speckled with “wood brown,” and one egg is almost immaculate. The measurements of 15 eggs average 10.7 by 13.1 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 17.5 by 13.2, 16.5 by 13.7, and 16.0 by 12.7 millimeters (Harris).
Young: Nothing seems to have been reported on incubation, brooding or care of the young nestlings of the western palm warbler, but Zirrer writes to me: “Once out of the nest, the young birds sit scattered on convenient branches, practically always a tamarack, and as a rule not more than 4 to 8 feet above the ground, waiting f~r the old birds to bring food. Before long, however, they begin to move with a creeping or sliding motion along the branches, usually from near the end of the branch toward the trunk; they fly, at first clumsily, from there to the nearest convenient branch or twig and creep or slide again, all the while picking at something. Ours here must have been infested with vermin, probably Mallophaga, as they would stop every once in a while and pick vigorously at the feathers and especially under the wings. Although they are soon able to find their own food, the old birds still feed t.hem occasionally until the end of August.
Plumages: The plumages and molts of the western palm warbler are apparently the same as those of the yellow palm warbler, to which the reader is referred. The western bird always has less yellow than the eastern.
Food: Zirrer (MS.) writes: “Although I have watched these birds every summer since the spring of 1940, I am still unable to tell much about their food. I see them occasionally find and eat small green caterpillars, but most of the time I see them picking something from the twigs of the tamaracks without being able to tell what it is, although I have examined a number of twigs. I see them also hang on and examine cones on tamaracks two and more years old, even those on dead, dry trees, but what they find there I am unable to say. They like various berries, especially raspberries, however.”
A. H. Howell (1932), referring to Florida, says: “R. W. Williams at Tallahassee, in October, 1904, observed large numbers of Palm Warblers feeding on cotton worms. F. M. Uhler, in studying the bird’s food habits in the celery fields around Sanford, found the destructive celery leaf-tyer in nearly all the 23 stomachs examined, amounting to 73 percent of the total contents. Other items found in the stomachs were flies, 12.7 l)el cent; Lepidoptera (mainly cutworms), 6 per cent; and Hymenoptera, 7 per cent.”
Robert H. Coleman (Judd, 1902) wrote to the Biological Survey that be counted the number of insects that one of these birds caught and found that it varied from 46 to 60 per minute. He writes: “He spent at least four hours on our piazza, and in that time must have gathered in about 9,500 insects.” This warbler spends much time feeding on the ground, where it probably picks up some spiders and seeds.
Behavior: The most characteristic trait of the palm warbler is its habit of almost constantly wagging its tail up and down, like a pipit, even while flitting about in the low trees. Strangely enough, Kirtland’s warbler, the only other species of the genus Dendroject that babitually nests on ground, has the same habit. The palm warbler spends much of its time on the ground, where it has been said to walk with a gliding motion, but to me it seems to hop or run, though its little feet move so rapidly that it is not easy to see just which it does. W. B. Barrows (1912) writes of its behavior in Michigan:
Although entirely unlike the Yellow-rumped Warbler in appearance, the two species have many points in common, and the present bird is equally fond of the ground, where it alights constantly for food, hopping about in search of seeds and insects, very much like a sparrow. It Is usually found in flocks sometimes as many as fifty together, though more often in small squads of six to ten. It frequents the edges of fields, the borders of woods and the sides of hedges and roads, but is often seen frequently in open fields, particularly in the wetter parts of cattle pastures, where It perches on weed-stalks or on the ground, and when alarmed flies to the nearest fence, where it sits, wagging its tail up and down in a manner entirely unlike that of any other warbler.
Zirrer says in his notes: “For weeks after the young are able to fly, the family still roosts every night in the evergreens near where the nest was situated. They quit feeding and retire comparatively early, nearly an hour or so before dark. Any attempt to follow them there causes them to become highly nervous, to fly around and above a person’s head and to chirp excitedly and loudly, until one leaves them alone and moves away.”
Voice: Several writers have likened the song of the palm warbler to that of th~ chipping sparrow or junco. Prof. Lynds Jones (1900) recognizes the resemblance, but remarks: “The trill remains as a prominent feature, but the note is no longer a true chip. Better t8ee taee t8ee tsee, with a distinct swell. Each syllable should be given a half double utterance except at the middle of the swell, where the greater effort seems to completely coalesce the half double quality into one distinct syllable. There is a little similarity to the song of Myrtle Warbler, but lacking the liquid quality of that species.” Dr. Leonard W. Wing (1933) gives a good description of the songs of this warbler:
On its breeding grounds, the palm warbler was heard to have two distinct songs and an ordinary warbler chip. The first song, which appears to be song of the mated or nesting bird, is delivered from a favorite perch, generally the tallest pine in the bird’s territory. It is given with the body erect, the head thrown back and the tail pointing straight down. I have written the song as hee’: u aee”-u hee’-u hee’-u. The first notes are delivered slowly; the last two a little more rapidly; they are higher pitched and accented as indicated. The whole song, however, is delivered in a slow, unhurried manner. The tone is rich, soft, and liquid. It has a cool, distant quality.
The second song, which may he the courting song, is almost indistinguishable from the songs of the Pine Warbler or the Eastern Chirping Sparrow. Indeed, it bears a striking resemblance to the song of the Slate-colored Junco and Myrtle Warbler. However, the Pine Warbler sings only from the taller, older trees; the Western Palm Warbler prefers the fresh growth. The song Is a trill, sweeter and more musical than the song of the Eastern Chipping Sparrow and stronger than the song of the Pine Warbler. It is generally given while the hird is moving (sometimes very rapidly) through the jack pine. The singing bird stays in the same territory, though he circles a great deal. Occasionally a feeding bird bursts out with this song. It is heard oftener than the song first described. I have written It wect weet weet weet, with no inflection.
Field marks: The western palm warbler looks like a washed-out yellow palm warbler. The reddish-brown crown is duller, and there is little yellow anywhere except the paler yellow on throat and under tail coverts and the greenish-yellow rump; the brownish-gray wing bars are not conspicuous. In fall and winter birds the colors are still duller, but the rump and under tail coverts are still yellowish, and there is a whitish line over the eye. The bobbing tail is always diagnostic.
Enemies: This northern breeding race is apparently rarely imposed upon by the cowbird. Dr. Friedmann (1934) says that “Mr. T. E. Randall found two parasitized sets in Alberta.”
Fall: Zirrer (MS.) writes of the association of these warblers with chickadees in late summer and fall: “Soon after their own breeding season is over, toward the beginning or middle of July, the chickadees make steady companions of various species of warblers with similar feeding habits, here the myrtle and, especially, the palm warbler. I do not remember a day, from the time the young palm warblers are out of the nest until their departure in fall, without seeing the chickadees as their steady companions.
“Later, when the palm and myrtle begin to stray with other warblers (and also other birds) of similar feeding habits throughout the neighborhood, the call of a chickadee means that a flock of warblers is close at hand. All one has to do is to wait a few moments, watch and listen; and there they come, palms, myrtles, magnolias, several vireos, a tree creeper, an occasional nuthatch, and, of course, a flock of chickadees. This goes on until the middle of October, when the last of the warblers, the myrtle, has gone south. This may be observed not only in our bogs and their immediate neighborhood, but throughout all of our woodlands.”
N. A. Wood (1911) tells of a heavy migration of western palm warbiers across Saginaw Bay, Mich. The first one was seen on August 24, and the numbers increased in successive migration waves of small birds, until the third wave “occurred on the night of September 18, and on the morning of the 19th the species was very abundant. There must have been thousands of individuals about the light-house, where they fed partly on flies that collected on the window screens and sides of the house, and apparently also on ground insects and possibly seeds of the beach grasses.” These birds all passed on, and another big wave came on October 5. “Among the birds in this movement there were thousands of this species and of the myrtle, and large numbers of black-throated blue, and black-throated green warbiers, American redstarts, juncos, vesper sparrows and a few horned larks.”
The western palm warbler is an abundant fall migrant through the broad Mississippi Valley to the Gulf States where it turns abruptly eastward into Florida, crossing the fall route of the yellow palm warbler. Although the main route is southward, chiefly west of the Alleghenies, its trend is more eastward than the spring route. In Massachusetts it occurs fairly regularly, though rarely, in fall; and it is commoner in western Pennsylvania and in South Carolina in fall than it is in spring, though it spends some winters in small numbers in the latter State. During the fall migration it frequents old brush-grown fences, hedge rows, brushy fields, and open pastures, spending most of its time in low trees or bushes or on the ground, often in company with the flocks of migrating sparrows, juncos, and other ground feeders.
Winter: Although the western palm warbler’s winter home is mainly in Florida, Cuba, and the West Indies, it is a hardy bird and has been found in winter far north of its main winter range. Forbush (1929) gives a number of December and January records for Massachusetts, and a January record for Grand Manan, New Brunswick. As a winter visitant in South Carolina, it seems to be irregular; Wayne (1910), strangely enough, says that “it appears more frequently during severe winters than in milder ones.” Dr Eugene E. Murphey (1937) calls it abundant in the middle Savannah Valley, in southern Georgia, arriving in October and departing early in April, “and is to be found in low grassy damp meadows and particularly in the cotton fields after the cotton has been picked and the leaves have fallen.”
The western palm warbler is one of the characteristic small birds in all parts of Florida in winter. In the regions where I have spent the winter it is a common dooryard bird, hopping or running about on the lawns or flitting through the shrubbery and low trees, even in the city yards and gardens. It is about the only small bird to be seen so close to houses. It seems to obtain most of its food on the ground, but it also inspects the tiny yellow blossoms in the center of the circle of bright red leaves of the poinsettias, where it may find some food. It is an inconspicuous little bird while foraging among the dry, brown leaves, but the frequent wagging of its tail betrays it.
Mr. Howell (1932) writes: “The Palm Warbler is a prominent feature of winter bird life in Florida, and in many places it is the most abundant species, often occurring in loose flocks numbering 50 or more. The birds are found in a variety of situations: hammocks, prairies, marshes, pine flats, old fields, cultivated lands, town yards, and even the Gulf beaches.”
Dr. Barbour (1923) calls this warbler the commonest bird in Cuba during the winter months. “Its bobbing tail may be seen by every dusty roadside, along fences, in pastures, gardens and in the very cities themselves: if there be a park with any cover. They come in September and retire late in April, the males having begun to assume the nuptial dress just as they leave. The birds seem to be such an essential part of the Cuban winter landscape that it is hard to believe that they are not natives.”
The palm warbler is equally common, really abundant, in nearly all the Bahama Islands in winter, a~ording to several observers. It frequents the vicinity of the seashore, the scrub fields and pastures, the neighborhood of houses and gardens, and even the streets of the cities and towns.
Range: Canada to the West Indies.
Breeding range: The palm warbler is known to breed at least north to southern Mackenzie (Simpson, Providence, and Resolution); northern Saskatchewan (north shore of Athabaska Lake near McFarlane River) ; northern Manitoba (Churchill) ; central Quebec (Fort George, Mistassine Post, and Piashti); and central Newfoundland (Grand Lake, Bever Lake, and Gander). East to Newfoundland (Gander) and Nova Scotia (Baddeck, Halifax, and Barrington). South to southern Nova Scotia (Barrington) ; southern Maine (Mount Desert Island and Auburn); southern Quebec (Montreal); southern Ontario (Ottawa, rarely, and Sault Ste. Marie); northern Michigan (Lovells); possibly northern Wisconsin (Ladysmith); northern Minnesota (Aitkin, Case Lake, Itaska Park and Thief Lake) ; southern Manitoba (Indian Bay and Lake St. Martin); central Saskatchewa.n (Cumberland House, probably, Emma Lake, and Flotten Lake); central Alberta (Flat Lake, Boyle, and Glenevis); and northeastern British Columbia (Trutch and Miniker River). West to northeastern British Columbia (Miniker River and Fort Nelson) and southwestern Mackenzie (Simpson). Judging from the data on migration of the palm warbler the northern limit of the breeding range is in the unexplored regions to the north, possibly the limit of trees.
The palm warbiers which occupy the range as outlined are divided into two geographic races: the western palm warbler (D. p. palma~’uqm) breeds east to central Ontario, while the eastern part of the range is occupied by the yellow palm warbler D. p. hypochrysea).
Winter range: The palm warbler winters regularly north to central Louisiana (Alexandria) ; central Alabama (Prattville) ; northern Georgia (Atlanta and Athens); and northern South Carolina (Chester). It is casual in winter north to Bicknell, md.; Columbus, Ohio; Toronto, Ontario; Doylestown, Pa.; Garden City and Shelter Island, N. Y.; and Martha’s Vineyard, Mass. East to South Carolina (Chester and Charleston); eastern Georgia (Savannah and Brunswick) ; eastern Florida (Fernandina, St. Augustine, New Smyrna, and Miami); the Bahama Islands (Nassau, Watling, and Caicos); Hispaniola (Siinchez); Puerto Rico (San Juan); and the Virgin Islands (St. Croix). South to the Virgin Islands (St. Croix); Jamaica; and Providence Island. West to Providence Island; northern Honduras (Roat~in Island); Quintana Roo (Bauco Chinchorro); Yucatan (La Vega and Progresso) ; and Louisiana (Chenier au Tigre and Alexandria).
The two races of the palm warbler tend to cross each other’s routes in migration. The eastern form is more abundant in the western part of the winter home, while the western form is commoner in southern Florida and the West Indies.
Late dates of departure from the winter home are: Puerto Rico: San Juan, April 8. Dominican Republic: Saman6. San Thom~, May 12. Cuba: Cienfuegos, May 6. Bahamas: Andros, May 2. Florida: Daytona Beach, May 10. Alabama: Birmingham, May 8. Georgia: Darien, May 18. Louisiana: Ruston, April 22. Mississippi: Rosedale, April 30.
Early dates of spring arrival are: Virginia: Charlottesville, March 27. West Virginia: Blueficld, April 3. District of Columbia: Washington, March 26. Pennsylvania: Harrisburg, March 16. New York: New York, April 2. Massachusetts: Harvard, March 30. Vermont: Rutland, April 6. Maine: Dover-Foxcroft, April 2. Quebec: Kamouraska, April 25. Nova Scotia: Bridgeton, April 14. New Brunswick: Saint John, April 13. Prince Edward Island: Tignish, May 2. Newfoundland: Tompkins, May 11. Tennessee: Nashville, March 20. Illinois: Chicago, April 8. Indiana: Goshen, April 17. Ohio: Toledo, April 13. Michigan: Lansing, April 18. Ontario: Toronto, April 23. Missouri: St. Louis, April 5. Iowa: Sigourney, April 17. Wisconsin: Madison, April 14. Minnesota: St. Paul, April 17. Kansas: Lawrence, April 27. Nebraska: Lincoln, April 16. South Dakota: Huron, April 16. North Dakota: Fargo, April 25. Manitoba: Aweme, April 30. Wyoming: Torrrngton, May 10. Montana: Great Falls, May 14. Alberta: Glenevis, May 5.
Late dates of the departure of spring transients are: North Carolina: Weaverville, May 12. Virginia: Charlottesville, May 31. District of Columbia: Washington, May 13. Pennsylvania: McKeesport, May 20. New York: Rochester, May 26. Massachusetts: Boston, May 21. Vermont: St. Johnsbury, May 28. Tennessee: Knoxville, May 31. Kentucky, Bowling Green, May 20. Illinois: Yorkyule, June 1. Ohio: Austinburg, May 31. Missouri: Montgomery City, May 21. Iowa: Independence, May 26. Wisconsin: Madison, June 1. Nebraska: Stapleton, May 12. South Dakota: Sioux Falls, May 25. North Dakota: Fargo, May 24.
Early dates of fall arrival are: North Dakota: Fargo, September 7. Wisconsin: Ladysmith, August 24. Iowa: National, August 31. Michigan: Sault Ste. Marie, August 9 (bird branded). Illinois-Chicago, August 30. Indiana: Waterloo, August 31. Ohio: Leetonia, August 28. Kentucky: Bowling Green, September 4. Mississippi: Bay St. Louis, September 25. Louisiana: New Orleans, October 24. New Hampshire: Hanover, September 8. Massachusetts: Monterey, September 1. New York: Rochester, September 4. Pennsylvania: Doylestown, September 6. District of Columbia: Washington, September 4. West Virginia: Bluefield, August 28. North Carolina: Chapel Hill, September 11. South Carolina-Marion, September 2. Georgia: Atlanta, September 12. Alabama: Anniston, October 8. Florida: Fort Myers, September 4. Bahamas: Nassau, October 1. Cuba: Habana, September 20. Dominican Republic: Ciudad Trujillo, October 5. Puerto Rico: Guanica Lagoon, October 24.
Late dates of fall departure are: British Columbia: Buskwa River, near Fort Nelson, September 16. Alberta: Glenevis, October 10. Montana: Great Falls, September 18. Wyoming: Laramie, November 14. Manitoba: Aweme, October 13. North Dakota: Argusville, October 16. South Dakota: Lake Poinsett, September 27. Minnesota: Minneapolis, October 11. Wisconsin: Elkhorn, November 3. Iowa: National, October 22. Missouri: Montier, October 17. Ontario: Moosonee, September 24; Port Dover, October 25. Michigan: Calumet, September 29. Illinois: Urbana, October 31. Indiana: Indianapolis, November 16. Ohio: Toledo, November 11. Kentucky: Versailles, October 27. Newfoundland: Tompkins, October 4. Prince Edward Island: North River, September 15. Quebec: Hatley, October 16. New Brunswick: Scotch Lake, October 29. Nova Scotia: Yarmouth, October 15. Maine: Portland, October 27~ Vermont: Wells River, October 27. Massachusetts: Martha’s Vineyard, November 21. New York: Orient, November 18. Pennsylvania: Jeffersonville, November 13. District of Columbia: Washington, November 20. West Virginia: Bluefield, November 15.
Banding: While not many palm warblers have been banded, a few interesting records have been obtained. A western palm warbler was banded on October 9, 1932, at North Eastham, Cape Cod, Mass.; and seven weeks later, November 28, 1932, it was caught in a house at Point Verde, Placentia, Newfoundland, almost 900 miles northeast of the place of banding.
A yellow palm warbler banded at Elmhurst, Long Island, N. Y., on October 13, 1932, was found on January 15, 1933, at Dunn, N. C.
A palm warbler banded at Homosassa Springs, Fla., on March 29, 1936, was recaptured at the same station on April 6, 1941. Another banded at Coral Gables, Fla., on January 17, 1943, returned to the station the following fall on October 26.
Casual records: A palm warbler was collected at the west base of the Steens Mountains in Oregon on September 26, 1913. Two specimens have been taken in California: at Pacific Grove on October 9, 1896, and on the shore of Ferguson Lake, Imperial County, on September 22, 1942. One was collected in Baja California, at Chapala, on October 16, 1930. A specimen collected September 18, 1915, at Bernard Harbor, on the shore of Dolphin and Union Straits, Mackenzie, is the northernmost record to date.
The palm warbler has twice been recorded in Colorado: one was observed in Denver on June 20, 1891, and a specimen was collected at Limon, Lincoln County, on May 13, 1947. In Otero County, N. Mex., near the White Sands National Monument, a lone palm warbler was collected on December 6, 1935. Several specimens have been collected in Bermuda : December 17, 1847; December 3, 1848; September 4, 1899; October 3, 1902; November 14, 1903; and March 15, 1937.
Egg dates: Alberta: 6 records, May 30 to June 16.
New Brunswick: 16 records, May 28 to June 21; 10 records, June 3 to 9.
Nova Scotia: 20 records, May 18 to June 8; 15 records, May 20 to 31.
Quebec: 17 records, June 5 to July 1; 13 records, June 7 to 15 (Harris).
YELLOW PALM WARBLER
DENDROICA PALMARUM HYPOCHRYSEA Ridgway
Contributed by WINSOR MARRETT TYLER
We may suppose that the yellow palm warbler has been moving up and down the Atlantic coast on its migrations to and from Canada for many years, perhaps since the glacier retreated and opened the road to its breeding-ground some 15,000 or 20,000 years ago, but it is only recently, a little more than two generations ago, thatï ornithologists have recognized that the bird was distinct from the palm warbler which breeds and migrates farther toward the west. Robert Ridgway (1876) called attention to a marked difference in the plumage of the migrant palm warblers taken in the Mississippi Valley and those from New England and southward. He pointed out that the latter birds were uniformly bright yellow below, streaked, especially on the sides, with~ chestnut, and that the back was “greenish-olive,” whereas the western birds were yellowish-white beneath, only tinged with yellow, except on the throat and crissum where they were clear yellow, while the entire breast was streaked with brown, and the back was “dull olive-brown.” The eastern birds were also slightly larger in all dimensions.
The eastern form was ~icc~pted as a subspecies of the palm warbler and appears in the first edition of the A. 0. U. Check-List (1886) as hypochrysea, golden beneath. Subsequently it was found that the breeding ranges of the two races lie chiefly in Canada, roughly to the east and west respectively of the longitude of the southern tip of Hudson Bay.
Of the older writers, Wilson and Nuttall, who studied chiefly the birds of the northeastern United States, apparently met only the yellow palm warbler, and Audubon definitely describes it, but his remarks on the birds he saw commonly in Florida throughout the winter without much doubt apply to the western race.
Spring: The yellow palm warbler, in spite of its small size and fragile appearance, is evidently a hardy bird. It pushes northward into New England early in April when winter is not far behind us, at a season of uncertain weather, with perhaps even snow, and before many of the leaves have expanded fully. The bird passes through the Transition Zone a full month before the horde of north-bound migrant warblers which brighten the treetops in mid-May; it comes even earlier than the robust myrtle warbler which has wintered not far away; and before the black and white creeper which feeds from the bark of tree trunks and branches. Only the pine warbler, returning to its home in the evergreen pitch pines, precedes it by a few days.
Those who watch the arrival of the migrant birds carefully often note that the migration of the yellow palm warbler coincides almost exactly with that of the hermit thrush and the ruby-crowned kinglet. Year after year these three birds appear on the same day, or thereabouts. The birds are not closely related to one another but they possess a trait in common: they do not depend for food on the insects found solely in widely opened flowers and leaves. Both the thrush and the kinglet are accustomed to the wintry conditions of the southern States. In April the hermit feeds on the ground among the fallen leaves; the kinglet must find most of its food in conifers or on the bare branches of trees and shrubs and in their swelling buds; and the yellow palm warbler feeds to a large extent on the ground, often in the recently burned-over patches of grassland common at this season. Here it hops about in the black, parched grass, searching for insects or seeds in the company of the robins, cowbirds, grackles, chipping sparrows, savannah sparrows, and other birds which are attracted to these areas. William Brewster (1906) says of the bird:
Yellow Palm Warbiers visit the Cambridge Region IMass.] with unfailing regularity in spring and autumn, although their numbers vary greatly from year to year. Sometimes only a very fe~v are reported, but in spring they are usually common and occasionally really abundant. On April 25, 1868, during a brief but heavy snowstorm, I found them by hundreds at Fresh Pond where, in company with an even greater number of Yellowrumps, they had congregated on a narrow strip of bare, pebbly beach at the water’s edge. It Is of course exceptional to see anything like so many together, but one may often meet with fifteen or twenty in a single flock or forty or fifty in the course of a morning walk.
Nesting: The yellow palm warbler breeds in portions of Ontario, Quebec, southern Nova Scotia, southern New Brunswick, and in northern Maine. It frequents the sphagnum bogs and open barrens of these regions, building its nest on the ground or, more rarely, on low branches of small spruce trees. Robie W. Tufts (~~S.),in his notes on 61 nests found in Nova Scotia, says: “The usual number of eggs to a nest is 5. I have never found a full set with fewer than 4, nor more than 5. May 20 would appear to be the average date for a complete set of the first laying, but I have reason to believe that the birds frequently, if not regularly, raise two broods. The nests are usually built on the ground on open barrens, well concealed under the dried brakes of the previous year’s growth, although frequently they are hidden away among the roots of spruce seedlings. About 1 nest in 20 is likely to be found from 1 to 4 feet above the ground close to the trunk in a small spruce seedling.”
W. 3. Brown has sent to A. C. Bent descriptions and photographs of nests found in the southern part of the Province of Quebec. Here the birds breed in “large tracts of open sphagnum bogs,” often among the lichens which cover the ground, in situations such as the following: “at the base of a seedling spruce; sunk under a clump of cotton grass; embedded in a mass of bleached grass at the side of a mound, concealed in lichens and low plants; 0 inches from the ground in crotch of seedling spruce in center of large sphagnum bog among a thin growth of spruce; 2 feet above the ground against the trunk of a small spruce tree, at the edge of an open sphagnum bog.” The nests were made of dry grass and lined with feathers.
P. B. Philipp and B. S. Bowdish (1917) found the bird breeding commonly in New Brunswick in situations similar to those mentioned but “one small breeding colony were nesting on high, dry ground, in a grove of small pines.” They describe a nest as “composed of fine dead weed-stalks, strippings of dead weed bark and dead grasses, lined with the finest of same material, and with a few featheraworked into lining. The feathers in nest lining seem to be characteristic of this bird.” They give the dimensions of a nest as “diameter outside ~½ inches and inside 2 inches with a depth of 2½ inches outside and 2 inches inside.” They remark: “The sitting Yellow Palm Warbler usually runs, mouse fashion, from the nest, while the intruder is still some feet distant, and it is with greatest difficulty and the most acute watching that this movement is detected soon enough to serve as a clue to the immediate whereabouts of the nest. The bird remains silent until well away from the nest, usually until the intruder has been in the vicinity for a few minutes, when it commonly begins a vigorous chipping, the sharp, strong note characteristic of the species.”
Ora Willis Knight (1904) discovered the yellow palm warbler breeding near Bangor, Maine, in a bog similar to the bogs in the localities m~ntioned. He says it “consists of large open expanses thickly ca5peted with sphagnum mosses, and dotted with numerous small trees rand shrubs.” Among the characteristic plants, he mentions ha&matack, swamp sprfice, Labrador tea, rhododendron, swamp laurel, wild rosemary, birch, orchids, and many sedges. Knight (1908) says, speaking of the same region:
Nest building must begin early in May, as well grown young have been found the first of June. I am satisfied that both parents share in the duties of incubation and both take part in caring for the young. The nests can be easily located by watching the parents carrying food to the young, but before the eggs have hatched the birds are very shy of approaching the nest when observers are about. The incubating bird will remain on its nest until almost stepped upon before flying, and practically the only way of discovering nests is by flushIng birds therefrom, unless some reckless person is willing to visit the bog and spend day after day during the nest building season, fighting the voracious mosquitoes and meanwhile watching to catch the birds In the act of carrying material to the nest. * ï * While Maine is the only State where this species has been found nesting, I would he Inclined to predict that careful search of suitable localities in northern New Hampshire and Vermont will show that they nest there also.
Eggs: The eggs are practically indistinguishable from those of the western palm warbler, as described under that subspecies. The measurements of 40 eggs average 17.4 by 12.9 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 19.0 by 13.1, 18.0 by 13.8, 16.0 by 13.0, and 16.7 by 12.5 millimeters (Harris).
Young: O. W. Knight (1904) says that the young yellow palm warblers “leave the nest within twelve days after hatching,” and after hiding a day or so in the undergrowth are able to essay short flights. Frank L. Burns (1915b) gives the incubation period as 12 days.
Plumages: [AU¶’IboR’s No~ri Dr. Dwight (1900) describes the juvenal plumage, in which the sexes are alike, as follows: “Above, dull sepia-brown, streaked with clove-brown. Wings and tail clove-brown, edged chiefly with dull olive-green, the coverts and tertiaries with drab cinnamon-tinged; the outer two rectrices with terminal white blotches on the inner weEs; no definite wing bands. Below, including sides of head, dull white with dusky spots and streaks; chin and crissum faintly tinged with yellow. Orbital ring dull white; transocular streak dusky.”
A partial postjuvenal molt occurs in August, involving the contour plumage and the wing coverts, but not the rest of the wings or the tail. In his first winter plumage, the young male is “above, yellowish sepia-brown, yellowish olive-green on the rump and upper tail coverts, obscurely streaked with dull clove-brown, the crown merely tinged with concealed chestnut. Wing coverts clove-brown edged with olivegreen and tipped with cinnamon not forming wing bands. Below, canary-yellow brightest on the crissum, obscurely streaked on throat and sides with dusky chestnut everywhere veiled by overlapping whitish edgings. Superciliary line canary-yellow, orbital ring bufly white; transoculaf’ streak dusky.”
The first nuptial plumage is acquired by a partial prenuptial molt, “which involves chiefly the crown, sides of head, chin and throat. and not the rest of the plumage. * * * A rich chestnut cap is assinned, contrasting sharply with the worn feathers of the occiput, the lores become dull black, the auriculars chestnut and the yellow of the chin and breast becomes brighter with rich chestnut streaks on the sides of the throat and breast. The streaking of the sides of the chin and across the jugulum are darker. Elsewhere a few stray feathers are acquired.” Dr. Dwight saw this molt in progress in December and January in birds from Jamaica, in March and April in birds in Florida and Georgia, and late in April in birds near New York City.
A complete postnuptial molt in August produces the adult winter plumage, which “differs little from the first winter dress, but of richer brown above with darker wing edgings, the chestnut more abundant on the crown and the streakings below more conspicuous.” Adults have a partial prenuptial molt in the spring, as in the young birds.
Of the females he says: “The sexes are very similar in all plumages, females usually a little browner and with less yellow. In first winter plumage with very little or no chestnut on the crown and later practically indistinguishable, but undergoing the same moults as the male, the prenuptial more limited.”]
Food: Ora W. Knight (1904), who studied the bird on its breeding grounds, says: “The food of this species consists largely of insects and among the contents of stomachs of birds taken in spring and summer have been found small beetles, gnats, mosquitoes, flies and the general run of small insects found on the trunks of trees or flying in the air in localities which the Warblers frequent. In late summer and fall some small amount of vegetable matter is also eaten, chiefly unidentifiable plant seeds.” To this list Forbush (1929) adds mayflies, leaf beetles, ants, plant lice, and grasshoppers, and remarks: “On Cape Cod it apparently eats bayberries in winter, like the Myrtle Warbler.”
Francis H. Allen (MS.) speaks of “two birds on the upper beach at Ipswich, Mass., among the beach grass, feeding on flies, which they often caught on the wing. They would squat against the bank with tail resting on the ground and look about for insects and then make a sudden run or leap into the air after one.~~ I have seen the birds hover beside a branch and pick off insects from it.
Behavior: The yellow palm warbler is an inconspicuous little bird, almost insignificant; it flashes no bright color, like the redstart; it has no loud, striking song, like the yellow warbler. Indeed, few people ever see the yellow palm except those who are familiar with this tiny, pale yellow, chestnut-capped, tail-wagging, quiet bird: those who are on the watch for it as it passes unobtrusively up and down the Atlantic seaboard.
Nevertheless, it is a common bird early in spring in New England and the southern States, one of the first warbiers to arrive from the south. We may see it, often in groups of half a dozen together, flitting among the shrubbery bordering the country roadsides, along stone walls, or feeding on the ground out in open fields, singing its faint song, and wagging its tail up and down wherever it goes. Delicate and fragile as the bird seems, it is journeying to a wild country to spend the summer in the cold, dank, mossy swamps far away in the north. During its migration, too, it seems attracted to moisture, to wet hollows in the woods and to the edges of streams and ponds. I have seen it feeding on the surface of a brook, held up by heavy grass lying along the water.
The bird is even commoner in the autumn migration but is no more conspicuous, for at this season, September and early October, it is moving southward in company with many other species of migrant warblers.
Francis H. Allen (MS.) reports an interesting habit of the yellow palm which he noted as he watched two birds catching flies on Ipswich beach, as previously described: “They were very active, running and hopping along over the sand. They progressed both by hopping and by running, as I saw both by watching them and by observing their tracks, but they hopped more than they ran, and they always hopped when they had longish distances to go. I watched them for a long time and was often very near them, even within 8 feet. They did not seem at all afraid of me.”
Voice: The song of the yellow palm warbler is one of the so-called trills, so common in bird music, a series of short notes rapidly repeated. Sometimes the notes are inflected slightly, giving them a doubled effect. It is an inconspicuous little song, no loud or accented notes, the tone rather flat, with no ringing quality: a feeble jingle made up of listless notes, usually all on the same pitch and with little musical charm. Walter Faxon used to say that it suggested to him the song of a debilitated chipping sparrow.
As I have listened to the bird’s singing over a series of years I have sometimes noted a variation both in the delivery and quality of the song. There may be a slight swell in the middle, and on one occasion I heard it divided into short sections like the early morning singing of the chipping sparrow. Rarely, the notes are uttered slowly, no faster than a flicker’s 8houting, and while they are usually uttered with no suggestion of vigor, occasionally they are given with such a sharp, staccato delivery that they suggest (in the delivery only) the bright song of Wilson’s warbler. When the pitch alternates up and down with a hint of rotary effect, as it does in some instances, the song might be confused for a moment with that of a myrtle warbler, singing very listlessly. The palm warbler’s call note is feeble, but sharply-cut at the end, suggested by the syllable, 8hip.
Aretas A. Saunders (MS.) sends to A. C. Bent this analysis: “The song of the yellow pahn warbler is a simple one, consisting of 10 to 30 notes in regular, even time, and with only slight changes in pitch.
The quality is only slightly musical and is distinctly sibilant or fricative, with sounds like the consonants ~ or / running all through it. It is not loud, and none of the notes is strongly accented. The average number of notes per song is 16. Of 15 records of this song, 5 are made up of single notes, 3 of 2-note phrases, while ‘1 begin with 2-note phrases and end in single notes. Changes in pitch average about a tone, a few songs being all on one pitch, and only 2 changing more than one and a half tones. The pitch, I believe, ranges from A flat ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ to / ‘ ‘,a range of only 3 tones. Songs range from 11/s to 2æ seconds in length. The number of notes per second varies from 8 to 12.”
The bird sings freely in New England during its northward migration, but I do not recall ever hearing the song in Florida in early spring.
Field marks: The distinctive mark of the two races of the palm warbiers is their chestnut crown. The wagging tail of the palm warblers, an almost constant movement, is a pronounced up and down sweep, through a much longer arc than the twitching tail of the blackpoll and the prairie warblers. The two subspecies of the palm warbler are very similar in plumage. The most reliable point of difference is the contrast in color between the yellowish-white breast and, by comparison, the intense yellow of the under tail coverts in the western race, a contrast the yellow palm lacks, its under parts being uniformly yellow. In the autumn, when the colors are fainter, it may sometimes be impossible to identify the races surely in the field.
Enemies: Aside from the hazards to which its ground nests are exposed and the dangers of its fairly long migration at the seasons, both spring and fall, when the Accipiter hawks are moving, the yellow palm warbler has no especial enemies as far as we know.
Herbert Friedmann (1929 and 1934) says it is “a rare victim” of the cowbird, and cites only four nests in which cowbirds’ eggs have been found.
Fall: The yellow palm warbler is often an abundant bird during its fall migration along the Atlantic coast, generally frequenting the birch thickets where plant lice abound, a favorite food of the autumn warbiers. IDr. Charles W. Townsend (1905) says: “On October 14th, 1900, in a violent northeast storm with rain, I found the Ipswich dunes swarming with these birds.”
Winter: Few yellow palm warblers leave the United States during the winter. They are rare in Cuba (Barbour, 1943). Their chief range in winter is in the Gulf States from Louisiana to Florida, but in the latter State it is almost exclusively restricted to the west coast. Hence its winter range is decidedly more to the westward and much farther north than the range of the western race.