Northern Waterthrush

Parkesia noveboracensis
A Northern Waterthrush specimen on display in the exhibit "Birds of D.C."

A large (6 inches) wood warbler, the Northern Waterthrush is most easily identified by its brown back and wings, yellowish breast streaked with brown, and yellowish eye stripe. This species is physically similar to the related Louisiana Waterthrush (Parkesia motacilla), although that species is typically paler and less streaked below and on the face. Male and female Northern Waterthrushes are similar to one another in all seasons. The Northern Waterthrush breeds across Alaska, Canada, and the northern tier of the United States. In winter, this species is primarily found in the southern half of Mexico, Central America, and the West Indies. Small numbers of Northern Waterthrushes winter in south Florida, mainly south of Miami. Northern Waterthrushes breed in a variety of cool woodland habitats along the edges of shallow bodies of water, including streams, ponds, and bogs. In winter, this species is found in wetland portions of humid tropical forests as well as in coastal mangrove forests. Unusually for a warbler, Northern Waterthrushes primarily eat aquatic invertebrates, including insects and larvae, although this species will also eat terrestrial insects, snails, and small crustaceans during the winter. Along bodies of water in appropriate habitat, Northern Waterthrushes may be seen walking on the shoreline or wading in shallow water while foraging for food. This species’ characteristic tail wagging behavior, in which the rear half of the body is flicked up and down almost constantly while the bird is in motion, is highly unusual among wood warblers. Northern Waterthrushes are primarily active during the day, but, like many migratory songbirds, this species migrates at night.

DC Information

Common in migration, late April to late May and early August to early October. Found on low, wet ground in or near brushy swamps or floodplains. Sexes are similar.

Distribution Map

distribution map for this species

Bird Vocalizations

Sound from xeno-canto. XC11487 Parkesia noveboracensis (Northern Waterthrush)

Sound from xeno-canto. XC54115 Parkesia noveboracensis (Northern Waterthrush)

Sound from xeno-canto. XC15006 Parkesia noveboracensis (Northern Waterthrush)