Chesapeake Bay Field Office
Northeast Region

Cerulean Warbler (Dendroica cerulea)

Because this small wood warbler nests and forages higher in the canopy than most other warblers, the cerulean warbler may be hard to see.  However one cannot confuse it with any other warbler.

Cerulean Warbler. Photo by Bill Dyer.
Cerulean warbler. Photo by Bill Dyer.

The male is a bright sky blue with white throat and underparts, blue streaking down sides of breast, a blue- black band across the throat and a blue eyestripe.  The female is bluish-green, white washed with yellow below and a white or yellowish line over the eye. Both sexes have white wing bars and white tail-spots. Its song is buzzy ending in a high trill of "zee zee zee zizizizi eeet."

Cerulean warblers are typically found in the treetops of mature deciduous forests with an open understory such as wet bottomlands and dry slopes. They forage on insects and nest high in the canopy. The forests of the Chesapeake Bay watershed provide this critical habitat, particularly in areas that were once heavily logged but have been reforested.

Cerulean warblers breed from central Minnesota to central New York, southward through the Chesapeake Bay watershed, to Arkansas and North Carolina, arriving from late March and breeding until mid-May. The female incubates the 3-4 eggs but both parents feed the young.

They migrate farther and earlier than many other warbler species, and arrive on the on their wintering grounds as early as August. This species winters in the canopies and borders of broad-leaved, evergreen forests in the Caribbean and the mountains of northern South America.

Formerly one of the most abundant breeding warblers in Ohio and the Mississippi River Valleys, its population plummeted in the 1900's due to habitat destruction as critical forests no longer exist there. Today forest fragmentation continues to degrade remaining breeding habitat. Winter habitat destroyed for the production of coffee beans and coca. According to the Breeding Bird Survey, cerulean warblers have declined 4.5% per year from 1966-2001, one of the steepest declines of any warbler species.

In order to conserve this species, land management must maintain forests with distinct canopy layers. Because the cerulean warbler requires a large tract of suitable forest cover, landscape level management is critical to the survival of this beautiful bird.


Some migratory birds in the Chesapeake Bay area:

Bald Eagle

Black Rail

Canada Goose


Cerulean Warbler

Field Sparrow

Great Blue Heron

Red Knot


USFWS Office of Migratory Bird Management

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Last updated: January 28, 2011