Palm Warbler Singing

By the time I stepped outside this morning, the sun was high in a clear blue, cloudless sky and the day already felt very warm. The trees are almost all leafed out in green, and birds have come out and blossomed into song. Just standing on our front porch before heading out to walk, I heard Chipping Sparrow, Pine Warbler, Tufted Titmouse, Northern Cardinal, Carolina Wren, House Finch, Eastern Bluebird and Eastern Phoebe. American Goldfinches chattered and sang in the trees all around the yard – it sounded as if they filled the trees and I could see several of them in branches just overhead. A Brown Thrasher sang from the top of a tall red oak. A Red-bellied Woodpecker called its musical quurr. Two White-throated Sparrows splashed in the bird bath.

Several minutes later, along a low, shady stretch of road with woods on both sides, a Red-eyed Vireo sang as it moved through the treetops, a Louisiana Waterthrush whistled its clear anthem from somewhere along the nearby creek, and a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher called spee-spee. Among the songs of several other birds was a kind of gentle, chanting song that I couldn’t place. When I used the Merlin app to check it, it identified the singer as a Palm Warbler – to my great surprise. I don’t think I have ever heard the song of a Palm Warbler before now. I usually see a few here as they pass through in migration, but they are almost always in a more open spot, around shrubs or on the edge of a thicket or foraging somewhere low to the ground – a medium-size warbler with an olive-brown back, a yellow breast with rusty streaks, a bright rusty crown, and a prominent pale or yellow stripe over its eye. And most of the time, it’s walking on the ground – and constantly wagging its tail. These characteristic behaviors set a Palm Warbler apart from most other wood warblers. 

This one was somewhere up in the trees, singing and singing – and with a little luck, I found it, not far away. It moved with delicate grace, searching the branches and leaves, often curling itself around a branch or a branch tip, and now and then flitting off in the air to hawk an insect. But even with this different kind of foraging, it frequently wagged its tail. And every few seconds it paused, lifted its head up and tilted it back – and sang. 

Its song was a gentle, chanting series of notes almost all on one pitch. Although a Palm Warbler’s song is often described as a “buzzy trill,” I would not have described it as either buzzy or a trill – but this was the first time I’ve heard one, so I have a lot to learn. And this was fun – a new song for me – from a bird in an unexpected setting. And the chance to listen and watch for several happy minutes.

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