Northern Waterthrush

Parkesia noveboracensis
Range Map

This bird breeds in the northern part of North America in Canada and the northern United States. Typically, it winters in southern Mexico, the Caribbean and northern South America.

The behaviour of the Northern Waterthrush differs markedly from most warblers. Rather than flit among the branches and leaves of the forest canopy, it searches the ground in dense brush and swampy waters for food. Their bobbing movements are reminiscent of a pipit or Spotted Sandpiper.

The three keys I’ve learned to help with differentiating the Louisiana from the Northern Waterthrush are:

  • Leg color
    • The Louisiana Waterthrush’s legs are pinkish.
    • The Northern Waterthrush’s legs are more brown.
  • Throat color
    • The Louisiana Waterthrush’s throat is white with no stripes.
    • The Northern Waterthrush’s throat is striped.
  • White line over the eye
    • The Louisiana Waterthrush’s eyeline is bolder than the Northern Waterthrush and often wider behind the eye.
    • This feature is usually difficult to assess.

My first encounter with this species was with an overwintering bird in the Tijuana River Valley near San Diego. When I traveled to south Texas in spring of 2020 and 2021, I enjoyed regular meetings during their migration to the higher latitudes of North America.

Modern science does not recognise any subspecies of Northern Waterthrush (i.e. they are monotypic).

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