Hey guys, welcome back! Today’s colorful little bird is the northern parula. A brightly colored little bird in the warbler family, before this guy got its current name (more on that in a bit), they were known as the blue yellow-backed warbler by John James Audubon and ornithologist Alexander Wilson. Blue yellow-backed warbler may accurately describe this bird, but it is quite a mouthful to say!
The northern parula is one of two parula species and is among the smallest of the wood warblers (a group of already pretty small birds.) In spring they are a beautiful bluish grey and yellow with touches of green and orange. Most fall birds (as well as spring females) have the same color pattern, but slightly drabber. The northern parula is found throughout the eastern US and southeastern Canada, from just west of the Mississippi River to the Atlantic. Their cousin, the tropical parula lacks the white eye crescents and is only occasionally seen in extreme southern Texas and sometimes southern Louisiana and Arizona.
The northern parula spends most of its time way up in the top of the canopy, making good looks at the bird difficult at best. Though occasionally they’ll come down lower, your best bet is to either find a spot on the top of a hill where you’re eye level with the tops of trees, or learn their rising, buzzy song. Their song, to me, kinda sounds like a zipper being zipped up and it was one of the first warbler songs I learned! The northern parula also has the dubious distinction of being the only warbler I’ve ever found on the streets of Manhattan after apparently colliding with a building. It seemed ok, just dazed. I moved it to a secluded, wooded area to rest up, and hopefully be on its way!
So for many birders (particularly those starting out), bird names can be first, or only time one sees a certain word. And without anyone around to hear what it sounds like, you may not know how to say it. I actually had a discussion with my colleagues about this a couple weeks ago. The northern parula is one of the bird names whose pronunciation is always debated. When I started birding, I heard other birders pronounce it “PAIR-ooh-la” so that’s how I said it. Then I encountered increasingly more people saying “pah-RUE-la.” An argument can be made for both, but the proper way to pronounce it is… well… both. Both are technically correct and acceptable. Personally, I think I like “pah-RUE-la” better, but because I learned it as “PAIR-ooh-la” I usually say it that way! Join me next time for one of the brightest colored birds you’ll ever see in North America! See you then!