<< Return to Tennessee's Birds


Northern Parula
Setophaga americana

The Northern Parula is the smallest eastern wood-warbler and although it is an active bird, its habit of foraging high in trees at the tips of branches makes it a difficult bird to observe. The song, a rising buzzy trill, ending with an abrupt lower tsup, is a typical sound in the bottomland and ravine forests across Tennessee in the spring. The Northern Parula arrives in early April and departs in late September. The breeding range extends across the eastern half of the United States from southeastern Canada to the Gulf Coast. In the non-breeding season, the Northern Parula can be found from southern Mexico to Honduras, in the Caribbean, and at the southern tip of Florida.

Description: The Northern Parula is a small, short-necked, short tailed, active warbler. It is gray-blue above with a yellowish-green upper back, two bold white wing bars, a bright yellow throat and breast, a white belly, and a white eye-ring broken by a black eye-line. The male and female look similar but the male has an obvious breast-band of reddish-brown and black.
Wingspan: 7"
Weight: 0.3 oz

Voice: The song is an up-slurred buzzy trill, usually ending with an abrupt lower tsup. Chip note is sharp.

Similar Species:

  • In appearance, the Northern Parula does not look similar to any other eastern warbler. The song, however, is similar to the Cerulean Warbler. Cerulean song lacks the last abrupt lower tsup note of the Northern Parula and the overall tone of the song is different.

Habitat: Bottomland, riparian, and ravine woodlands.

Diet: Insects and spiders.

Nesting and reproduction: Most nests are built in hanging bunches of epiphytic growth such as Spanish moss or lichens.

Clutch Size: Usually 4 to 5 eggs, occasionally 3 to 7.

Incubation: The female incubates the eggs for 12 to 14 days.

Fledging: Both adults feed the young. Because nests are so difficult to observe, the number of days to fledging is unknown.

Nest: The few nests described in Tennessee are constructed of Usnea lichen, in clusters of evergreen needles or deciduous leaves. In Tennessee, nests range in height from 9 to 95 feet, with an average of 51 feet above the ground.

Status in Tennessee: The Northern Parula is an uncommon to fairly common summer resident of bottomland, riparian, and ravine woodlands across the state. The population in Tennessee has been increasing in recent years.

Dynamic map of Northern Parula eBird observations in Tennessee

Fun Facts:

  • Mark Catesby first described the Northern Parula as a Finch Creeper in 1731, and John James Audubon named it the Blue Yellow-backed Warbler in the 1840s.
  • There is a gap in the breeding distribution from Massachusetts and Connecticut westward. It is unknown if this gap is natural or caused by increased air pollution, which limits the growth of epiphytes that the warbler depends on for nest construction.

Obsolete English Names: blue yellow-backed warbler

Best places to see in Tennessee: Bottomland, riparian, and ravine woodlands across the state

For more information:


M., Ralph R. and D. J. Regelski. 1996. Northern Parula (Parula americana), The Birds of North America No. 215 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.

Nicholson, C. P. 1997. Atlas of Breeding Birds of Tennessee. Univ. Tennessee Press, Knoxville.

Sibley, D. A. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. A. A. Knopf, New York, NY.