Monday, July 2, 2012

Cerulean Warblers

Cerulean Warblers © Dave Spier

The Cerulean is an uncommon and vulnerable* warbler that is declining throughout its range in the Midwest and mid-Atlantic region. You can find a range map on eBird, and by zooming in far enough, you can locate actual checklists reporting this species.

The Cerulean's core summer range is soft-coal country – eastern Tennessee and Kentucky, southern West Virginia and Ohio and southwestern Pennsylvania – an area noted for strip mining and mountain-top removal which impacts the mature forests they need for breeding. This species is being considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act, and the National Audubon Society has already added the bird to its Watchlist.  

The Cerulean is named for the male's sky-blue color which is set off by white on the throat, belly and wingbars. Black streaks on the flanks, a black "necklace" and black in the wings and tail add contrast. The female is much duller and lacks the distinctive blue. Pale yellow replaces much of the white. Their preferred habitat is deciduous forests with tall trees and open understory like those found in wet bottomlands. Actually seeing the bird is difficult because it feeds and nests in the treetops, higher than most warbler species. You’re more likely to find the bird by its song, a rapid series of buzzy notes leading to a higher trilled note at the end. To listen to a recording, go to All About Birds.

The nest is an open cup made from fibers, grass and hair held together with spider silk. If the first nesting fails, the spider silk is reused in making a new nest. When the female leaves the nest after incubating for a time, she briefly drops like a stone before opening her wings to reduce the chances of attracting attention to the nest. The average clutch of four speckled eggs hatches in less than two weeks.

After breeding season, the Cerulean makes the long trek south through the southern states, flies across the Gulf of Mexico, migrates along the Central American highlands and ends up in its winter home in the evergreen forests of the northern Andes. Over 60% of this winter habitat has been converted from forest to farms and pastures, further impacting the species and adding to its decline. Ceruleans will use shade-grown coffee plantations, so in the interest of bird conservation, please consider buying one of the shade-grown coffee brands. Better yet, choose organic shade-grown if you have a choice.

[*conservation status from IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, code VU]
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I've known about the Cerulean Warblers (Dendroica cerulea) at the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge (between Rochester and Syracuse, NY) for some time, but they also live nearby along the Clyde River and Erie Canal in southeastern Wayne County (the Towns of Galen and Savannah). I had stopped to see Dave Odell, retired NYSDEC Region 8 Wildlife Manager, at his Old Duck Inn, a bed & breakfast southeast of Clyde in the Montezuma Wetlands Complex. I wanted to see what birds I might add to a checklist I started for the Montezuma Birding Trail, so I was happy to learn that Dave has been hearing the warblers. His 100-acre farm on Tyre Road extends downhill to the Old Clyde River. The wooded shoreline provides good habitat for this species.

Corrections, comments and questions are always welcome at For information on the next Montezuma Birding Tour, organized by the Montezuma Audubon Center in Savannah, e-mail

eBird range map:

All About Birds voice:

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