Saturday, May 17, 2014

This Week's Crops & Clips: Palm Warbler

Near our south Florida home we have lots of birds that are big and showy, such as egrets and other herons, as well as ibises, storks, gallinules and exotic ducks and geese. Medium-sized birds like pigeons, doves, blackbirds and grackles also abound the year round. House Sparrows hang out in the more urbanized areas. However we do not see very many small birds except during migration. In winter, Palm Warblers arrive to our neighborhood in droves and are the most common dooryard birds. They constantly wag their tails, much more persistently than do the Prairie Warblers which are also fairly common in the wetlands during the winter.

The Palm Warbler's long legs are an adaptation to terrestrial foraging habits, and their coloration is somber brown, causing many people to mistake them for sparrows. There are two subspecies, an eastern "Yellow Palm Warbler" and a western dull form. They occupy separate breeding areas in Canada and parts of northernmost US. The eastern subspecies has entirely yellow underparts, while in the western form the yellow is less extensive, confined to the undertail coverts and sometimes throat, while its belly is whitish or only slightly tinged with yellow. In breeding plumage their brown caps turn to a bright chestnut color.

Here is a typical western Palm Warbler I photographed on February 19, 2012 as it was enjoying a big meal.

Palm Warbler (Dendroica palmarum) with worm 20120219

Their migration patterns are interesting, as the western birds winter in the southeastern Atlantic coastal US while the eastern subspecies spend the winter along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. They actually cross paths during their migratory journeys. Nearly all of the Palm Warblers that winter in southeastern  Florida represent the western group.  

Our winter visitors show some variation in coloration.

Palm Warbler on Road 20081109

This Palm Warbler showed a rather bright reddish cap, on February 24, 2012:

Palm Warbler 3-20120224

Another local mid-winter Palm Warbler appeared to be unusually bright on November 29, 2009. Its all-yellow underparts identify it as an eastern "Yellow Palm Warbler." Over the past 10 years I have only seen three or four of this subspecies in our neighborhood:

Yellow Palm Warbler 2-20091129

As spring approaches the winter visitors brighten up a bit and many begin to look more like the eastern Yellow Palm Warblers. This photo was taken in south Florida on March 2, 2009. It probably is the common western subspecies, as its breast and belly are not entirely suffused with bright yellow. Yet the difference between the two is subtle, making this a close call, especially in the field:

Palm Warbler Bright 20090402

This bird is characteristic of the eastern subspecies, photographed in Illinois, May 1, 2012:

Palm Warbler 20120501

Many "Yellow Palm Warblers" were passing through in early May when we arrived at our second home in NE Illinois:

Palm Warbler eastern 20140504

Palm Warbler eastern 2-20140504

Yellow Palm Warbler  in NE Illinois, May 12, 2014. Although pale, the yellow color suffuses its entire undersides:

Yellow Palm Warbler 20140512

Another representative of the eastern subspecies, seen on May 14, 2014:

Yellow Palm Warbler 20140514


  1. they're just beautiful. i've never seen one in person, but lots in blogland!

  2. I found this a very interesting read on the Palm Warbler. Thank you, your photos are fantastic!

  3. You managed to capture some wonderful images...and poses!! Love the one where it's coming in to perch/land!!

    Fabulous Ken.

  4. Lovely shots of these sweet little birds. Great colour variations.

  5. Very cute little warbler birds.

  6. Haven't seen any Palm Warblers yet!! Boom,Bobbi & Gary.

  7. What beautiful captures!

  8. how beautiful these birds - especially liked the 'red cap' version

  9. How wonderful to see this lovely bird at different seasons. Fantastic shots and lots of interesting information.

  10. Great photos and very interesting info! Love the yellow one!

  11. Hi Ken These are fantastic shots and great information to go with it. The crown is very striking.

  12. Thats a different sort of red cap to mine - and that is a very big meal!

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

    PS: I was a bare foot photographer for the beach shots!

  13. Beautiful series of warblers, so coloroful.


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