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Species of Concern

A Conservation Action Plan for the Cerulean Warbler (Dendroica cerulea)


Below is a summary of the Action Plan, for a complete copy of the Cerulean Warbler Action Plan click here for the PDF version (14 pages).


produced for the
USFWS Division of Migratory Bird Management
Focal Species Program
Revised version – 30 June 2007

Action Plan Summary

The Cerulean Warbler is a small neotropical migrant songbird that breeds in eastern North American and winters in middle elevations of the Andes Mountains in northern South America. This species has specific habitat preferences on both the breeding and wintering grounds, largely associated with mature forests having structurally diverse canopies with multiple vegetation layers.


Cerulean Warblers have experienced a long-term population decline. Analysis of North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) data indicates that over the last 40 years, the decline has been steep and steady at a rate of about -3.0% per year.


Primary limiting factors for this species are thought to be habitat loss and degradation on its wintering and breeding grounds. Initial studies of demographics and population ecology for this species suggest that population growth could be limited by a combination of poor survival during the non-breeding period and poor reproductive success during the breeding period. A recent report suggests that as much as 60% of this species’ South American non-breeding habitat might already have been converted from primary forest to other land uses. Loss of suitable habitat on the wintering grounds and migratory stop-over locations are likely to affect survival rates. The loss, fragmentation, and degradation in quality of eastern North American forests represent a threat to this species’ reproductive success. Recent and on-going studies are documenting poor reproductive success for this species in areas with low overall forest cover and high degrees of forest fragmentation. In addition, there is concern that many Eastern forests might not contain the kind of vegetation structure preferred by Cerulean Warblers, thereby limiting the suitability of those forests as breeding habitat and contributing to reduced reproductive output. Several non-habitat factors also could pose threats to this species (e.g., increased frequency of catastrophic weather events, collision with man-made structures, effects of mercury contamination and acid deposition) although the level of threat is unclear at this time.


The conservation actions described in this plan focus on activities falling under three main categories: 1) address threats to non-breeding habitat, 2) address threats to breeding habitat, and 3) identify and address non-habitat limiting factors. Several specific examples of these activities include: a) complete a map of the current Cerulean Warbler wintering range and protect habitat in South America, b) map migratory pathways between the southern U.S., Central America, and northern South America and develop conservation programs to protect key migration sites, c) prevent the permanent loss of large areas of forest and implement forest management recommendations on the breeding grounds, and d) assess and reduce/mitigate risks from collisions with man-made structures. An over-riding need within all three of these categories is continued research that will help fill critical information gaps in our knowledge of this species and monitoring of its response to conservation actions.


Successful implementation of actions identified in this plan will require collaborative and coordinated efforts among a large group of partners. Such a partnership has been started through the Cerulean Warbler Technical Group, a broad-based private and public partnership working on Cerulean Warbler conservation. This working group will provide an established cooperative foundation for pursuing the implementation of these actions.


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Last updated: February 10, 2016