Palm warbler (Dendroica palmarum)

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Male palm warbler in breeding plumage
IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern LEAST
CONCERN

Top facts

  • When in breeding plumage, the palm warbler is greyish-brown to olive-brown with pale yellow eyebrows and a reddish-brown crown.
  • Compared to other species in its genus, the palm warbler is thought to have a relatively limited song repertoire.
  • The palm warbler’s diet consists mostly of insects, but also includes seeds, berries and nectar in the winter.
  • The palm warbler breeds in northern North America, and winters along the Gulf and southern Atlantic Coasts of the United States, as well as in the Caribbean.
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Palm warbler fact file

Palm warbler description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderPasseriformes
FamilyParulidae
GenusDendroica (1)

The palm warbler (Dendroica palmarum) sports a reddish-brown crown and pale yellow eyebrows when in breeding plumage, while the remainder of the upperparts are greyish-brown to olive-brown and are marked with slightly darker streaks (2) (3) (4). The breast and flanks are also finely streaked with dark brown (2) (3) (4), and the blackish-brown wings have pale buff edges to the feathers (3).

Two subspecies of the palm warbler are currently recognised, which differ from each other in the colouration of the underparts. The yellow palm warbler (Dendroica palmarum hypochrysea), as its name suggests, is a fairly uniform yellow below (2) (3) (4), whereas the western palm warbler (Dendroica palmarum palmarum) has a greyish-white belly and breast (3) (4). In addition, the head and upperparts of the yellow palm warbler are generally slightly brighter (2).

Both subspecies have yellow undertail-coverts (2) (3) (4), which are shown off during the palm warbler’s constant tail wagging (3), while the rump and uppertail-coverts are olive-yellow (2) (3). The tips of the outer two feather pairs on the tail are marked with white spots (2). The palm warbler has dark brown eyes (2) (4) and blackish-brown legs (2) (3) (4). The bill is mostly blackish, except for the base of the lower mandible which is a paler horn colour (2) (3).

In its non-breeding plumage, the palm warbler tends to be duller and less heavily streaked, and lacks the reddish-brown cap and yellow throat of the breeding bird (2). In both subspecies, the sexes are similar in appearance (2) (3) (4). The juvenile palm warbler has mottled and darkly streaked upperparts, pale grey-buff underparts and throat, and a grey-brown head lightly marked with a pale eyebrow (2).

Compared to other species in its genus, the palm warbler is considered to have a rather limited song repertoire (4). Interestingly, the western subspecies is known to produce two song types, whereas the yellow subspecies only produces one (2) (4). The main song has been described as a continuous, flat-toned trill consisting of several buzzy syllables (2) (4), and is usually performed by the male, with females generally being quiet and secretive (4). Males frequently sing on the breeding grounds, usually from soon after dawn until the early afternoon (4). The typical call of the palm warbler is a loud, sharp ‘tsup(2) or ‘chick(3) (4), while the flight call is a higher-pitched ‘seep(3) (4) or ‘seet(2).

Size
Length: c. 14 cm (2) (3)
Male wing length: 60 - 71 mm (3)
Female wing length: 57 - 68 mm (3)
Weight
7 - 12.9 g (2) (3)
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Palm warbler biology

The palm warbler is regarded as the most terrestrial species in its genus (4), typically walking along the ground and continuously wagging its tail as it does so (2) (4). Although this species does not form flocks, individuals are often seen feeding close together (3).

The ground-feeding palm warbler’s diet consists mostly of insects (2) (3) (4) and other arthropods (2), including grasshoppers, beetles and flies (4). These prey items are either picked off the ground or from shrubs, or are caught during short fly-catching sallies (2) (3) (4). In the winter, the palm warbler is known to supplement its diet with seeds, berries and even nectar (2) (3) (4), particularly that of the century plant (Agave braceacea) (2) (4).

The palm warbler is a territorial species during the breeding season, with males singing to announce their presence and declare ownership of a territory. This species is primarily monogamous, and pairs tend to form shortly after the palm warbler arrives on its breeding grounds (4). The breeding season is variable depending on the location, but typically occurs between May and July (2) (4).

Usually found nestled in Sphagnum moss on a peat bog, well hidden beneath a small conifer, the nest of the palm warbler is a cup-shaped structure formed from weed stalks, grass, moss and strips of bark (2) (3) (4). The nest is lined with fine grass, feathers (2) (3) (4), and sometimes deer or horse hair (4).

The female palm warbler lays a clutch of four or five eggs (2) (3) (4), which are white to creamy white and speckled with reddish brown, lavender or lilac spots (4). It is thought that only the female incubates the eggs (4), for a period of around 12 days (2) (3). The male palm warbler feeds the female during incubation, and helps the female to feed the young once the eggs hatch. Young palm warblers leave the nest at between 8 and 12 days of age, and stay with the adult birds for a further 8 days after fledging. The palm warbler is known to only produce one brood per breeding season, although this species may nest a second time if the first clutch fails (4).

The palm warbler is medium- to long-distance migrant (2) (4), and is believed to migrate earlier in the spring and later in the autumn than most other wood-warbler species (4). It typically leaves its breeding grounds from early September (2), and migrates at night in small flocks, often in association with other birds such as sparrows and other warbler species (4).

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Palm warbler range

The palm warbler breeds in northern North America (3), from Canada’s Northwest Territories (3) (4) east to Newfoundland and southwards to the northern United States (3) (5). In the United States, this species is found in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Maine (4) (5), with several breeding records from New Hampshire, Vermont and New York (4).

The wintering range of the palm warbler stretches along the Gulf and southern Atlantic Coasts of the United States (3) (4) (5), from the southern Delaware-Maryland-Virginia peninsula, southwards through the eastern regions of the Carolinas and Georgia to southern Florida. This species also winters in the southern parts of Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas (4), as well as eastern Yucatan (3) (4), Belize and Honduras (1) (4). The palm warbler’s wintering range also encompasses Bermuda and several islands in the Caribbean (1) (4). Interestingly, small numbers of the palm warbler population are known to regularly winter along the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington (4).

The two subspecies of palm warbler differ in their breeding and wintering ranges (2), with the western subspecies typically nesting west of Ottawa and wintering along the south-eastern coast of the USA and in the West Indies, and the yellow subspecies nesting east of Ottawa and wintering primarily along the Gulf Coast (4).

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Palm warbler habitat

During the winter, and when migrating, the palm warbler tends to be found in open lowland areas with short grass, such as pastures, weedy fields, beaches, lawns and wooded roadsides (2) (3) (4). This species can also be found in woodlands, thickets and mangroves (2) (4), and is interestingly often found in towns and villages (3).

The palm warbler breeds in bogs and fens within open coniferous forests (2) (4) (6), particularly those dominated by spruce (Picea species) and tamarack (Larix laricina) (2). Areas with dense undergrowth near water are often preferred (2) (4) (6), whereas dense forest is typically avoided (3).

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Palm warbler status

The palm warbler is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern

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Palm warbler threats

The palm warbler is not considered to be globally threatened, and is, in fact, relatively common throughout its range (2). However, the degradation of this species’ boreal forest habitat through peat-harvesting may potentially be threatening this species on a more local scale, and collisions with tall structures when on migration are also known to cause mortalities within palm warbler populations (4).

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Palm warbler conservation

The palm warbler has an extremely large range and is not currently considered to be a threatened species (1) (7). As a result, there are no known conservation measures in place for this migratory bird at present.

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Find out more

Find out more about the palm warbler:

Find out more about bird conservation in the United States and the Americas:

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Authentication

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

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Glossary

Arthropods
A major grouping of animals that includes crustaceans, insects and arachnids. All arthropods have paired jointed limbs and a hard external skeleton (exoskeleton).
Boreal forest
The sub-Arctic forest of the high northern latitudes that surrounds the North Pole and is mainly composed of coniferous trees.
Coverts
Small feathers concealing the bases of larger flight feathers, usually on the wings or tail.
Fen
Wetland with alkaline, neutral or only slightly acidic peaty soil. The alkalinity arises due to ground water seeping through calcareous rocks (rocks containing calcium carbonate).
Genus
A category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ Latin species name; the second part is the specific name.
Incubate
To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
Incubation
The act of incubating eggs; that is, keeping them warm so that development is possible.
Mandible
In birds, the lower jaw and beak, but the term is also used to denote the two parts of the beak.
Monogamous
Having only one mate during a breeding season, or throughout the breeding life of a pair.
Subspecies
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
Territorial
Describes an animal, a pair of animals or a group that occupies and defends an area.
Territory
An area occupied and defended by an animal, a pair of animals or a group.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (January, 2014)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Christie, D.A. (2010) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 15: Weavers to New World Warblers. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. Available at:
    http://www.hbw.com/
  3. Curson, J. (2010) New World Warblers. A&C Black Publishers, London.
  4. Wilson Jr, W.H. (2013) Palm warbler (Dendroica palmarum). In: Poole, A. (Ed.) The Birds of North America Online. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca. Available at:
    http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/238/articles/introduction
  5. McWilliams, G.M. and Brauning, D.W. (2000) The Birds of Pennsylvania. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York.
  6. Sibley, C.G. and Monroe Jr, B. (1991) Distribution and Taxonomy of Birds of the World. Yale University Press, Connecticut.
  7. BirdLife International - Palm warbler (January, 2014)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/speciesfactsheet.php?id=9117
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Image credit

Male palm warbler in breeding plumage  
Male palm warbler in breeding plumage

© Gerrit Vyn / naturepl.com

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