Hey guys, welcome back! Today’s bird is the Palm Warbler. Our second (of dozens) warbler species! These little guys typically show up in April, often at the same time, or just after, the Pine Warbler. They spend their summers in Canada, and are one of the northernmost breeding warbler species. In winter, the live in the extreme southeastern U.S. (and occasionally the Pacific Coast) and the Caribbean. These warblers act more like sparrows than most warbler species as you’ll most often see them on the ground foraging. In fact, they often mix with sparrow flocks. Look for a bird that’s slightly smaller than a sparrow that is almost constantly wagging its tail up and down. The tail wag is one of the best ways to ID the Palm Warbler.
In my tease for this post, I incorrectly stated that the Palm Warbler comes in two color morphs. Well, it’s actually a step further, as the two are considered subspecies. I’m not going to get into the intricacies of taxonomic classification (to be honest, I’m not 100% sure what the difference is, just that there is a difference), so I’ll just leave it at that. I’ve actually seen, and photographed, both subspecies, so this post will give you all a good look at the differences. First, there’s the eastern subspecies, known as the “yellow” Palm Warbler. They’re typically found east of the Appalachian Mountains, and are, simply, yellow. Now, all Palm Warblers are yellow, but the yellow subspecies is more yellow. They still have some faint streaks on the breast, and a bright chestnut-colored cap (which becomes a drab brown in fall), but they are otherwise yellow throughout. The “western” Palm Warblers are much duller in color though still feature a bright yellow face and rump.
In New York and Ohio, all I ever saw were Yellow Palm Warblers. It wasn’t until last fall, in St. Louis, that I saw a Western Palm Warbler. I recognized it immediately as a Palm (tail wagging gave it away), but just assumed the drabber color was because it was fall, and most warblers sport a drabber color in non-breeding season. Then I remembered reading about the two subspecies. When I got home, I checked my guide, and sure enough, I had seen a Western Palm Warbler!
I love when the Palm Warbler show up. They are signs that spring migration is getting ready to really amp up, and they’re soon followed by tons of other warblers, and vireos, and buntings, and tanagers, etc. So be on the look out for a little bird that wags its tail! Join me next time for another early migrant, this time from the thrush family! See you all then!