Palm Warbler Setophaga palmarum

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Setophaga palmarum

Text and photos by P. Vankevich

This is a streaky bird with a light eyeline and a bright yellow under tail. In breeding plumage, it has a rusty cap which is not normally visible when on the island.

There are two subspecies, Eastern Yellow Palm Warbler which is more colorful with yellow underparts and the Western Palm Warbler which has a whitish/gray breast Both have bright yellow undertail-coverts. In both subspecies sexes are similar, often indistinguishable in the field. Both the Eastern and Western subspecies may be seen on Ocracoke.

Palm Warblers can be identified in the field and separated by the Yellow-rumped Warbler by the constant bobbing of the tail. Another less common species that is similar on Ocracoke that bobs its tail is the American Pippet.

Palm warblers breed in open coniferous bogs east of the Continental Divide, across Canada and the Northeastern United States.

Both subspecies winter primarily in the Southeastern and Gulf Coast regions of the United States, especially Florida, as well as the West Indies and Eastern Mexico down to Belize.

A bird of thickets and open areas, they are usually seen foraging low or on the ground which makes them an easy bird to observe when present.

The song of this bird is a monotonous buzzy trill. The call is a sharp chek.

During the breeding season, they feed primarily on insects from foliage while perching or while hovering momentarily in black spruce, tamarack, and cedars. They will also fly out to catch flying insects in mid-air. In fall and winter they  add seeds, fruit and bayberries to their diet.

Palm Warbler PS Crop Ocracoke nov 6 05On Ocraoke they peak in large numbers in fall, especially through October.  They arrive before the massive invasion of the Yellow-rumper (Myrtle Warblers). By the Christmas Bird Count on Ocracoke in the last days of December, they are few in number.






Palm Warbler call note:  

(Audio provided courtesy of OhioLINK Digital Resource Commons)

When to see:  fall, especially October and early November, diminishes afterwards, possible in spring, but unusual.

Where: In the dunes, soundside marshes, pony pasture, campgrounds, South Point Rd.

Birds of the Outer Banks Checklist


In spite of its tropical name, this bird breeds in bogs and fens in boreal forests of Canada and the northern United States.

Palm Warblers will flock in small numbers in the fall on Ocracoke. I once counted 7 in my yard near the Lighthouse in the first week of October. They may also be part of mixed flocks that include Yellow-rumped Warbles, Eastern Bluebirds, and Chipping Sparrows.


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