What a delightful day we had birdwatching at Ashbridge’s Bay Park in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, a park we had never visited before. One Sunday this past spring, Bob and I ventured there because it seemed to offer some of the best prospects for seeing migrating birds. Although more expert eyes probably picked out umpteen species, we managed to sight over a dozen ourselves including this little gem, a Palm Warbler. In breeding plumage, its dull red cap is diagnostic.
Depending upon where a Palm Warbler breeds will determine which version of the bird one sees. Their breeding range in Canada extends from the Maritime provinces to the western border of Alberta, and it is in the western two-thirds of that range that the Brown Palm Warbler or Western Palm Warbler (Setophaga palmarum palmarum) is found. That is what we have here. The abdomen of the western form is whitish or faintly yellowish, whereas the eastern form (Yellow or Eastern Palm Warbler) has entirely yellow underparts, and the streaks on the breast and flanks are a bolder shade of chestnut.
A habit exercised by both forms of Palm Warblers serves to show off the birds’ bright yellow undertail coverts. That habit is incessant tail wagging, which is a diagnostic characteristic since only 2 other warbler species behave the same. Palm Warblers are found in a variety of habitats including spruce bogs, open boreal coniferous forests and either dry or wet barrens. Each of these domains features scattered trees and sufficient shrubbery for concealment, necessary for Palm Warblers because they nest on or near the ground.
Bob and I had only a brief moment to observe this little fellow and wondered where these northern warblers got their tropical-sounding name. They certainly have no affinity for palm trees and breed further north in Canada than most species of warblers. In any case, come the end of breeding season and Palm Warblers will be heading to the southern United States and beyond to some sunny Caribbean island to wait out the winter. We were lucky to have seen this lovely little bird, one more on our list of new species sighted this year.
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