Northern Parula

Setophaga americana
Range Map

Southmost Texas and Florida are the only locations inside the borders of the USA where we can find Northern Parulas in winter. Most retire further south along the coastal plain of the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean or the West Indies. Come spring and they migrate north to the eastern USA and southeastern Canada. These birds sometimes break the rules we think they should follow in their choice of breeding territory, and have nested in California, Arizona and New Mexico.

We find these birds nesting in forests laden with mosses. They depend on moss for the building of their nests. There is a gap in the breeding range for the Northern Parula, just south of the Great Lakes region, extending to Massachusetts. One theory about the reason for this “skipped” range is that pollution or other problems have eliminated mosses from the forests in these areas.

My first encounter with a Northern Parula was in late January 2021 at Sabal Palm Sanctuary near Brownsville (Texas). That bird would have been a winter visitor, but the birds I met on South Padre Island in March and April were most likely migrating from further south.

Today’s science list these birds as monotypic (i.e. there are no recognised subspecies).

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