How to Identify a Palm Warbler

Learn what a palm warbler looks like, where birders can find these warblers in different seasons, and what foods these warblers prefer to eat.

Palm warbler sitting in tree.Courtesy Sandra Castle
Palm warbler

Question: I spotted this bird (above) in my backyard near a warbler, but I couldn’t identify its species. What kind of bird is it? —Sandra Castle of Vero Beach, Florida

Kenn and Kimberly: This bird is also a warbler. It’s a palm warbler, a type that spends the summer in the boreal spruce forests and bogs in eastern Canada and the northeastern U.S., migrating south to spend the winter in the southeastern states and around the Caribbean. Look for them on islands and along the coasts. In Florida, it’s the second-most common warbler seen in winter, after the yellow-rumped warbler.

What Does a Palm Warbler Look Like?

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The keys to recognizing this species are the yellow under the tail and the reddish brown cap and a yellow eyebrow stripe. Palm warblers often spend time on the ground, hopping about and bobbing their tails up and down like a palm tree swaying in the wind. Male and female palm warblers both look similar. 

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Palm Warbler in Winter

palm warblerCourtesy James Firmin
Palm warbler in winter plumage

Question: “Can you identify this bird (above)?” asks James Firmin of Friendswood, Texas.

Kenn and Kimberly: Seen here in its confusing winter plumage, this is a palm warbler. The thin bill and white spots on the tail are typical of warblers. In winter, key field marks for this species include the strong face pattern, with dark eyeline and noticeable pale eyebrow, overall brown look, and the touch of yellow under the base of the tail.

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Despite their name, palm warblers spend their summers mainly in the spruce bogs of Canada. They visit coastal Texas from midautumn to early spring. Although most members of the warbler family are forest birds, palm warblers often venture out in the open and are frequently seen foraging on the ground in the colder months.

Yellow warbler vs goldfinch: Here’s how to tell the difference.

What Do Palm Warblers Eat?

palm warblerCourtesy Bill Klipp
Palm warbler on banana flower in Key West, Florida

Insects make up most of their diet, and they feed in short-to-medium vegetation rather than high in the treetops. But they also go for natural nectar sources, as this bird (above) is demonstrating.

Next, look for pine warblers at suet feeders.

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