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BIRDS » FOREST BIRDS
Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler
Setophaga palmarum

The Palm Warbler is a breeding bird of the bogs and fens in the boreal forests of Canada and the northern United States, and it winters in the southeastern and Gulf states and in the Caribbean. This bird was named from a specimen taken during the non-breeding season in Hispaniola. A better name for this species might be the "Wagging Warbler" because if its habitat of constantly bobbing its tail. This behavior plus the fact that this species forages on the ground more than most warblers makes this an easy species to identify. The Palm Warbler is a fairly common migrant across Tennessee and is present from mid-April to mid-May and then again from early October to mid-November.

Description: This small songbird has a brownish back, yellow to yellowish under-parts that are streaked on the sides, a chestnut cap, bright yellow under-tail coverts, and constantly wags its tail. Males and females look similar and both are duller in the non-breeding season.

Length: 5.5"
Wingspan: 8"
Weight: 0.36 oz

Voice: The song is a dull, weak, uneven, buzzy trill. The Palm Warbler doesn't sing often during migration.

Similar Species:

  • Prairie Warbler also wags its tail, but lacks a chestnut cap, has bold dark streaks on sides, has yellow spectacles, a greenish back, and reddish streaks on back.
  • Cape May Warbler does not have a yellow under-tail and does not wag its tail.
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler does not have a yellow under-tail and does not wag its tail.

Habitat: During migration, found in shrubby woodland openings, brushy fields, agricultural fields and woodland edges.

Diet: Insects; some seeds and fruits in fall and winter.

Nesting and reproduction: The Palm Warbler has not been documented nesting in Tennessee.

Status in Tennessee: Fairly common migrant across the state and rare in winter.

Dynamic map of Palm Warbler eBird observations in Tennessee

Fun Facts:

  • Two subspecies of the Palm Warbler exist and are easily identified in the field. The "Yellow Palm-Warbler" inhabits the eastern third of the breeding range and is much more yellow below with bold rusty breast and flank streaking. The "Western Palm-Warbler" breeds in the western two-thirds of the range and is much less yellow below, and has less colorful streaking. The western form is most likely to be found in Tennessee.
  • There is more to be learned about the Palm Warbler's breeding behavior because its remote and mosquito-infested breeding grounds have made research there difficult.
  • The Palm Warbler is one of only three Dendroica warblers (Kirtland's and Prairie are the others) to incessantly bob its tail.

Best places to see in Tennessee: Fairly common migrant across the state.

For more information:

Sources:

Robinson J. C. 1990. An Annotated Checklist of the Birds of Tennessee. Univ. of TN Press, Knoxville, TN.

Sibley, D. A. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. A. A. Knopf, New York, NY.

Wilson, W. H., Jr. 1996. Palm Warbler (Dendroica palmarum). The Birds of North America, No. 238 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.


Consider using the online bird checklist program at eBird to help us understand bird populations and distributions in Tennessee. Click here to see how.