Saturday, October 15, 2011

Palm Warbler -- © Dave Spier

Palm Warbler at Bloomingdale Bog, September 30, 2008 - © Dave Spier

The Palm Warbler (Dendroica palmarum) was probably named in the winter when an early ornithologist first saw one in a palm tree, perhaps along the coast from the Carolinas south to the Gulf, or somewhere in the Caribbean, or even in portions of Central America. I’ve seen them foraging on lawns in South Carolina during our annual February-break trips, and yes there were palms (actually Cabbage Palmettos) nearby.

Its summer breeding range is remarkably different and far to the north (at least by warbler standards) across much of Canada, the shores of Lake Superior, the Adirondacks and most of Maine. It nests in bogs, open boreal (northern) conifer woods and areas with heavy undergrowth near water.

I’ve found them in Bloomingdale Bog in the Adirondacks and since they are often mentioned in association with this location from May through the end of September, I assumed they bred there too. To check on this I went to the New York State Breeding Bird Atlas page on the D.E.C. website and then refined my search to the 2000-2005 data for Palm Warblers.  A comparison to the 1980-1985 Palm Warbler data (one record) shows a remarkable increase in breeding activity (but some of this just might be better detection rates or increased effort).  The only New York breeding records for Palm Warblers are in the Adirondacks.

Another source of information on Palm Warblers in the Adirondacks is eBird – – using their "View and Explore Data" pages. You can find range maps by species and species lists for specific locations like Bloomingdale Bog. Using the "Bar Charts" tool, clicking on "New York" and "hotspots," then scrolling down to "Bloomingdale Bog" I was able to see all the species reported and their seasonal distribution. Clicking on the "map" box* for Palm Warbler sightings brought up a terrain map of the vicinity with all the report locations. Clicking a specific location button will allow you to access the actual checklists reported. The data is rather incomplete, especially in the fall, so this is also a request to stop by the bog and help paint a more complete picture of the birdlife there. Please submit "complete" checklists (reporting all species seen, even the mundane) as this will tell researchers at Cornell what species were NOT present! This type of data is important in building accurate range maps. 

Given their winter range to the south and summer range to the north, Palm Warblers can be found anywhere in between during migration.

Males and females are identical, unlike many warbler species where the female is a duller, lower contrast version of the male. In the Palm Warbler, there are two versions of the bird, but it has nothing to do with sex. A brighter, more colorful subspecies is found along the coast in its eastern breeding range, while a duller morph (form) occupies the so-called "western" part of its range.

All warblers eat insects when they can find them, but any warbler that winters north to the Carolina coasts must supplement its diet with berries and seeds. Being an omnivore allows the Palm Warbler to be in the vanguard of the spring warbler migration, along with Pine Warblers and Yellow-rumped Warblers. Joan Collins commented that "Palm Warblers are the first warbler species to arrive in spring in the Adirondacks. Males are singing on territory by the second week of April (years ago, before our springs became much warmer, you could find them in the bogs with snow still on the ground!). They are closely followed by Pine Warblers and then Yellow-rumped Warblers in arrival dates. So you can begin to look for Palm Warblers by mid-April and they leave in late September-early October." Joan is a licensed birding guide; her company is Adirondack Avian Expeditions & Workshops.  She was featured in the May-June, 2010 Adirondack Explorer in association with the Hamilton County Birding Festival.

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