Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Invisible Bird: The Northern Parula

This year there is one bird that I hear everywhere, but I don’t see it.  Not once have I seen this bird!  As soon as I hear it I start looking everywhere!  I probably look like a crazy person, but I don’t care.

 In my defense, every time that I hear this elusive bird I am caught without my binoculars.  I’m usually at work with the World Bird Sanctuary show and display at Grant’s Farm, holding an eagle for the family photo opportunity that we are a part of this year.  Often times I’m busy getting the display area all spiffed up for the day or getting ready for show time.

The Northern Parula (photo: wikipedia)

But, I digress.  The point is that I hear these birds singing all day long and by golly I would love to see one!  They have such a sweet little song and they’re such dapper little gals/guys. Even with binoculars, though, they would be pretty difficult to find unless you know where and what to look for.

Northern Parulas, Setophaga americana, are warblers that have a blue head and wings, a yellow chest, a white belly, and a green back.  You would think that they would be pretty easy to find with all those pretty colors, but the blue and yellow are great colors for camouflage.  The colors help to break up the outline of the bird’s body so that it might look like a leaf blowing in the breeze while the sun shines on it.  It’s helpful if you can zero in on its location while it’s singing.  Their vocalization sounds kind of like an ascending buzz.  Personally, I think it sounds like a zipper. 

The reason I have such a hard time finding them, next to lack of binoculars, is that they prefer to sing in the upper canopy where all those moving leaves block my view from the ground.  In mature forests near streams and swamps they can choose from the many insects that also rely on a water source to survive.  When insects are sparse they will feed on available seeds and berries.  It would really be a treat to view an active nest made from hanging moss and lichen, which are especially helpful for nesting. 

I feel confident that I will eventually see one this summer, but let my mistakes be a lesson for birding.  Never leave the house without your binoculars.

Submitted by Leigh French, World Bird Sanctuary Grant’s Farm Naturalist/Trainer

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