Conserving the Nature of America
Press Release
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Proposes to List the Elfin-woods Warbler

September 29, 2015


Division of Public Affairs
External Affairs
Telephone: 703-358-2220

A small beige bird standing on a tree limb surrounded by green foliage

Elfin-woods warbler Credit: Jan P. Zegarra, USFWS
Higher Quality Version of Image

Faced with fewer suitable habitat areas coupled with a declining population, the Elfin-woods warbler warrants listing as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is opening a 60-day public comment period on the proposal to add the warbler to the federal list of threatened and endangered species.

The Elfin-woods warbler is only found in Puerto Rico.  Currently, this bird only exists in El Yunque National Forest in eastern Puerto Rico, and in Maricao Commonwealth Forest and adjacent private lands in western Puerto Rico, but it once had a wider distribution in the Commonwealth.  During the early 1970s there was a single report of a warbler in the Toro Negro Commonwealth Forest in the central mountain range of the Island.  The bird also occured in the Carite Commonwealth Forest in east-central Puerto Rico, but was last observed there more than 15 years ago.

Along with the warbler’s proposed listing, the Service is proposing to exempt types of  agriculture and forestry work that are beneficial to the bird and its habitat.  These include planting native shade trees and coffee trees, establishing buffers along river banks, using fertilizers within shade grown coffee plantations, and other sustainable agricultural practices that enhance the forest habitat this bird requires to survive. A proposal to list a plant or animal as threatened may include exemptions from take prohibitions that are allowed under Section 4(d) of the Endangered Species Act.

For landowners, the exemptions allow more management flexibility and promote activities that make the most sense for conserving and recovering the warbler.  There is no requirement to follow these voluntary exemptions.  Landowners who prefer not to use the exemptions may still consult with the Service on other activities that may impact the bird.

“We will work closely with the Commonwealth, federal agencies, and private landowners to suggest best management practices that not only will help this bird recover, but also enhance the environment, which is also good for other wildlife and people,” said Cindy Dohner, the Service’s Southeast Regional Director.  “We hope we can encourage actions that will help conserve this Puerto Rican treasure.” 

“We greatly appreciate all the help from landowners and governmental land managers to work cooperatively towards that goal,” Dohner said.

The Elfin-woods warbler has been a candidate for federal protection since 1999.  The proposed listing as threatened of the Elfin-woods warbler is part of the Service’s efforts to implement a court-approved work plan under a Multi-District Listing agreement aimed at addressing a series of lawsuits concerning the agency’s ESA listing program.  The intent of the agreement is to recover species and significantly reduce a litigation-driven workload.  For more information about the work plan, see

Last year, the Service, the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, and the U.S. Forest Service signed a Candidate Conservation Agreement to work together to proactively conserve the warbler and restore suitable habitat in the El Yunque National Forest  and Maricao Commonwealth Forest.  The parties agreed to promote, develop, and implement best management practices to avoid any potential threat to suitable and occupied Elfin-woods warbler habitat and populations.  This agreement provided additional conservation measures to help reduce the threats facing the bird  and its status.

The agencies will reforest crucial areas and enhance habitat within degraded portions of their forests.  Outreach and education programs also will encourage warbler habitat conservation and restoration by private landowners near these forests.

Landowners who are interested in helping the Service conserve the Elfin-woods warbler, or who are seeking more information about the potential implications of the proposed listing, may contact the Service’s Caribbean Ecological Field Office at Post Office Box 491, Boquerón, Puerto Rico, 00622, or contact Deputy Field Supervisor Marelisa Rivera at (787) 851-7297, or

Shade-grown coffee plantations provide habitat for the warbler that is not available in sun-grown coffee plantations.  The rise in sun-grown coffee plantations, coupled with small residential  development and livestock-related activities, is a threat to the warbler.  Fires, hurricanes, and climate change also are affecting the warbler’s chances for survival.

The Elfin-woods warbler is about 4.9 inches in length.  Adults have a thin, white eyebrow stripe, white patches on ear-covers and neck, incomplete eye ring, and black crown.  Immature Elfin-woods warblers are similar to adults, but their black is replaced by grayish-green on the back, and yellowish-green on the head and underparts.

Public comments on the proposed listing of the Elfin-woods warbler as threatened and the associated 4(d) exemptions will be accepted for 60 days through November 30, 2015. 

Written comments and information on this proposed rule may be submitted by one of two ways: (1) online at ,by entering Docket No. FWS-R4-ES-2015-0144 in the search box and then clicking on “Comment Now,” or, (2) mail or hand delivery to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R4-ES-2015-0144. You also can U.S. mail or hand-deliver comments to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R4-ES-2015-0144, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Headquarters, MS: BPHC, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041-3803. All comments received will be posted on

Requests for a public hearing on the proposed rule must be made in writing by November 16,  2015, to the Service’s Caribbean Ecological Field Office at Post Office Box 491, Boquerón, Puerto Rico, 00622, or contact Deputy Field Supervisor Marelisa Rivera at (787) 851-7297, or

Download the Elfin-woods warbler fact sheet

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