Endangered cerulean warblers an amazing find in local forest

Guest Post and Photos By: Clayton Delancey

“Cerulean Warbler”
Photo by: Clay Delancey

Cerulean Warblers are endangered in Indiana, and a species of conservation concern range-wide. They have been declining at ~3% per year since 1960 across their range. In Indiana, Cerulean Warblers are typically on breeding sites by the first week of May and stay till the end of July.

They prefer an oak-hickory dominated forests for nesting. From previous research, white oaks are the most common nest trees. Cerulean Warblers are highly associated with gaps in the forest canopy, such as old logging roads or areas where trees have fallen over. They often place territories near areas with grapevine, which is the most common nest material.

Cerulean Warblers are often found in bottomland habitats, along with areas on more northeasterly slopes. Northern and east-central Indiana is mostly made up of flatter land used mostly for agricultural purposes. With so much agriculture production going on, less area is set aside for a larger, more contiguous forests in the area.

Protecting more forest land from becoming urbanized or turned into agricultural land can help save endangered species, such as the Cerulean Warbler, and help save other species from becoming endangered. Protecting more forests can not only help birds, but other species of animals will also benefit too.

During the Indiana Academy of Science Bioblitz at Red-tail Land Conservancy’s McVey Memorial Forest last year, birders found a single singing male Cerulean Warbler. This was the first record for a Cerulean Warbler at this site, and a first county record as well. Since it was early June, it was very likely that the bird spent the summer at McVey. This was an exciting find! Unfortunately, I did not make it out to see this individual last year.

On May 16, 2018, Micayla Jones, Red-tail’s stewardship director, and I spent 4 hours birding at McVey and came up with 57 total species. We discovered not one, but two singing male Cerulean Warblers. I played some Cerulean Warbler playback and found out that these birds were very defensive of their territories, especially one individual who responded very well.

Having a couple male Cerulean Warblers on territory leads me to think that there is a good possibility that they are nesting there, especially with the way they reacted to the playback. Unfortunately, we were unable to locate a female Cerulean Warbler, but at this time, it would likely be sitting on a nest somewhere high in the tree canopy. It is exciting to know that there are Cerulean Warblers on the property again this year.

Thanks to Red-tail Land Conservancy protecting and managing this land, state-endangered species, like the Cerulean Warbler, will be able to happily return to McVey Memorial Forest every year.

Clay is interested in avian research/conservation, and just completed his Master of Science degree in Biology from Ball State University where he conducted his thesis research on Cerulean Warblers in southern Indiana. 


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