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Northern Waterthrush

Parkesia noveboracensis

Length: 5.5 to 6 inches Wingspan: 9 inches Seasonality: Migrant
ID Keys: Strong streaking on breast and sides, white to light yellow eyebrow, brownish back. 

Northern Waterthrush - Parkesia noveboracensisA shy bird normally found in thickets around streams and ponds, the Northern Waterthrush can often be seen bobbing its hindquarters up and down as it searches for food.  In South Dakota, they are found as migrants, with sightings possible in both the spring and fall seasons. One of the earliest fall migrants, some Northern Waterthrush may start their southward movements as early as the middle of July.


Can appear in nearly any habitat during migration through the state, but is most often found in woods and thickets around water bodies.  Generally breeds in forested wetlands (out-of-state).


Primarily insects.  Will also eat crustaceans, mollusks, slugs, and small fish.


Usually close to water habitats, foraging on the ground as well as in shallow water for insects and other prey items. 


Non-breeder in South Dakota. On breeding grounds, the nest is a open cup of leaves, mosses, twigs, and bark, placed in a protected area such as in a stump or in an area protected by tree roots.  The female lays 4 or 5 eggs, with the female alone incubating them.  Upon hatching, both parents feed the young, which leave the nest after about 10 days.


Northern Waterthrush have multiple songs and call notes. The most frequently heard song is a musical suite of three distinct elements, often described as sweet-sweet-sweet swee- swee-swee chew- chew- chew. Another song begins with a few high-pitched notes, followed by a jumbled mix of short musical notes and phrases. Calls include a loud zink.


Summers throughout Canada and the northern and northeastern United States. Winters in Florida, Mexico, and points south. In South Dakota, they are migrants, seen in both the spring and fall seasons.

Interactive eBird Map:

Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Northern Waterthrush sightings

Similar Species:

Northern Waterthrush lack the brilliant colors of many warbler species that migrate through the state, but there are a few other species they could potentially be confused with, particularly one very close relative:

Louisiana Waterthrush - Parkesia motacilla Ovenbird 14 - Seiurus aurocapillus Ovenbird 4 - Seiurus aurocapillus Worm-eating Warbler - Helmitheros vermivorum
Louisiana Waterthrush Ovenbird Ovenbird Worm-eating Warbler

South Dakota "Hotspot":

Northern Waterthrush are most often seen near the edges of water bodies, in forested areas. Great locations to look for them in spring migration include areas like the oxbows around the Outdoor Campus in Sioux Falls, creekside at Beaver Creek Nature Area, or the area along Sergeant Creek at Newton Hills State Park.

Conservation Status:

Numbers appear to be stable, they are common in many parts of their normal range, and they are found over a wide geographic range. The IUCN lists the Northern Waterthrush as a species of "Least Concern".

Further Information:

Image Information:

Photo taken on September 2nd, 2012 - Minnehaha County, South Dakota - Terry Sohl

Audio File Credits

Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Northern Waterthrush - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Uncommon migrant.

Additional Northern Waterthrush Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
 Northern Waterthrush 1 - Parkesia noveboracensisNorthern Waterthrush 2 - Parkesia noveboracensisNorthern Waterthrush 3 - Parkesia noveboracensisNorthern Waterthrush 4 - Parkesia noveboracensisNorthern Waterthrush 5 - Parkesia noveboracensisNorthern Waterthrush 6 - Parkesia noveboracensis