Northern Parula

Toward the end of an hour-long walk, I stopped to check out several small birds in the trees and shrubs of an area along a small grassy ridge just inside the entrance to our subdivision. The deep yellow color of a female Summer Tanager on a low branch of a water oak was the first thing to catch my eye. She held a long dark caterpillar in her heavy bill, and I watched as she worked it back to swallow. Then she flew, and another much smaller, colorful bird flitted into view.

It was a Northern Parula, a wood warbler whose buzzy song I often hear – especially in spring and fall, less often through the summer – and it’s much less often that I manage see one here, because they can be hard to find, deep in the dense foliage of trees, shrubs and vines that they prefer. This one was quiet, but in perfect view as it moved through the lower branches of pecan trees. A tiny, plump, fairy-like bird, it glowed with a bright yellow throat and breast, and a band of coral and black spread across its chest like a necklace. Its blue-gray head and wings, bright, short white wing bars, white belly and a short tail all were clear, though the view was not quite good enough to see the green coloring on its back or the white arcs that frame the eye. I watched it for several moments as it flitted in and out of view quickly among the leaves, adding a hint of magic to a quiet late-summer morning.

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