Setophaga cerulea 

Scope: Global
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Aves Passeriformes Parulidae

Scientific Name: Setophaga cerulea (Wilson, 1810)
Common Name(s):
English Cerulean Warbler
Dendroica cerulea (Wilson, 1810)
Taxonomic Source(s): SACC. 2005 and updates. A classification of the bird species of South America. Available at: #
Identification information: 12 cm. Small canopy-dwelling wood-warbler. Male has sky-blue upperparts, with two white wing-bars. Underparts are mostly white with a narrow blue breast band and flank streaks. Female plumage mirrors that of the male but the blue is replaced by a greenish-blue. Voice Song is a high-pitched rather musical buzz.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Vulnerable A2ac+3c+4c ver 3.1
Year Published: 2016
Date Assessed: 2016-10-01
Assessor(s): BirdLife International
Reviewer(s): Butchart, S. & Symes, A.
Contributor(s): Butcher, G., Sharpe, C J, Rengifo, C., Islam, K. & Jones, J.
Facilitator/Compiler(s): Benstead, P., Bird, J., Harding, M., O'Brien, A., Sharpe, C J & Wheatley, H.
This species is listed as Vulnerable, because its population is estimated to have undergone a rapid decline owing to continuing habitat loss and fragmentation on its breeding and wintering grounds.

Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:The species breeds from Quebec and Ontario (Canada), west to Nebraska and south to northern Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia (USA) (A.O.U. 1983). Within this broad range, distribution is very patchy. Although sizeable populations can be found throughout the species’s breeding range (Beuhler et al. 2008), approximately 80% of the population breeds in the Appalachian Mountains (Wood et al. 2013). It migrates south through the south-eastern USA, the Bahamas, Cuba, Jamaica, the Caribbean slope of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica and Panama, and winters from Colombia and Venezuela south, mainly east of the Andes, to eastern Ecuador, south-eastern Peru and perhaps occasionally to northern Bolivia (A.O.U. 1983, Herzog et al. 2009). This species has undergone a large decrease of 72% over the last 44 years in North America (-2.8% per year; data from Breeding Bird Survey and/or Christmas Bird Count: Rosenberg et. al. 2016).

Countries occurrence:
Bahamas; Barbados; Belize; Bolivia, Plurinational States of; Canada; Colombia; Costa Rica; Cuba; Ecuador; Guatemala; Honduras; Jamaica; Mexico; Nicaragua; Panama; Peru; United States; Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic of
Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba; Brazil; Cayman Islands; Curaçao; Puerto Rico; Saint Lucia; Sint Maarten (Dutch part); Trinidad and Tobago
Additional data:
Continuing decline in area of occupancy (AOO):Unknown
Extreme fluctuations in area of occupancy (AOO):NoEstimated extent of occurrence (EOO) - km2:2540000
Continuing decline in extent of occurrence (EOO):UnknownExtreme fluctuations in extent of occurrence (EOO):No
Number of Locations:11-100Continuing decline in number of locations:Unknown
Extreme fluctuations in the number of locations:NoLower elevation limit (metres):500
Upper elevation limit (metres):2000
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:Partners in Flight (2016) gives a population estimate of  570,000 individuals. This equates to 380,000 mature individuals.

Trend Justification:  This species has undergone a large population decline of 72% over the last 44 years in North America (-2.8% per year; Rosenberg et. al. 2016). This equates to a reduction of 26% over three generations (10.8 years), assuming exponential decline.
Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:
Number of mature individuals:380000Continuing decline of mature individuals:Yes
Extreme fluctuations:NoPopulation severely fragmented:No
No. of subpopulations:2-100Continuing decline in subpopulations:Unknown
Extreme fluctuations in subpopulations:NoAll individuals in one subpopulation:No
No. of individuals in largest subpopulation:1-89

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:Breeds in mature deciduous forest (A.O.U. 1983, Sibley and Monroe 1990), in both upper dry slopes and ridge tops and riparian bottomlands (Beuhler et. al. 2013). In general, birds preferentially locate territories in forests with higher canopy height, greater canopy cover (c. 85%) and larger trees (Roth and Islam 2008). Recent evidence suggests that the species selects habitat in the vicinity of small canopy gaps, both natural and anthropogenic (Wood et al. 2005, 2006; Bokermans and Rodewald 2009; Boves et al. 2013), within these larger forested landscapes. The nest is built on the branch of a tree, and breeding takes place between May and July (Curson et al. 1994). Wintering birds are found in Andean submontane forest, mainly between 1,000 and 2,000 m (Curson et al. 1994, Beuhler et al. 2013), although they have been observed at higher elevations (e.g., 3500 m in Venezuela; Rengifo et al. 2005). Traditional shade coffee plantations are an important wintering habitat supporting densities of cerulean warblers 3-14 times higher than those of neighbouring primary forest (Bakermans et al. 2009). Information on migratory stopover sites is limited but the species has been recorded in primary and secondary subtropical montane forests in Belize (600-750 m; Parker 1994), at a wide range of elevations and habitats in Honduras (Welton et al. 2012) and a range of forested habitats in Costa Rica (Stiles and Skutch 1989).

Continuing decline in area, extent and/or quality of habitat:Unknown
Generation Length (years):3.6
Movement patterns:Full Migrant

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Degradation of habitat through land use change is the major threat to this species. Conversion of mature deciduous forest to agricultural or urban areas, fragmentation and increasing isolation of remaining mature deciduous forest, the change to shorter rotation periods and even-aged management, and loss of key tree species to disease are all breeding season constraints (Hamel 2000, Beuhler et al. 2013). Mountaintop mining constitutes a known but as yet uncontrolled threat on the breeding grounds, primarily in West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky (G. Butcher in litt. 2003). Wintering habitat is also threatened by conversion to other land uses such as pastureland, subsistence crops and coffee plantations, and is converted into coca plantations which have a detrimental effect on suitable primary forest habitat. Conversion from shade to sun coffee reduces habitat quality for cerulean warblers; Colombia has converted 70% of its plantations, while Venezuela lost 38% of its plantations between 1950 ansd 1990 (Bakermans et al. 2009). Attempts to eradicate coca plantations will also potentially damage forests (Hamel 2000, Beuhler et al. 2013). 

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Conservation Actions Underway
In the United States, Cerulean Warblers are considered a National Species of Conservation Concern. In Canada, Cerulean Warblers are listed as Endangered by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, and as Special Concern on Schedule 1 of the federal Species at Risk Act. In North America, current conservation activities include planning projects for habitat acquisition and protection, land protection and acquisition projects to increase the amount of forest in certain areas such as the Interior Low Plateaus and Coastal Plain of Tennessee. Forest management guidelines for the Appalachian Mountain region (based on a large-scale silvicultural experiment; Boves et al. 2013) have been recently published that should prove useful throughout the breeding range. Over 1 million acres of bottomland forest in the USA have been replanted with native hardwoods. ProAves Colombia established the Cerulean Warbler Bird Reserve, the first reserve in South America specifically for a neotropical migrant landbird. A conservation corridor has also been established in Colombia through reforestation to connect existing habitat. Shade grown coffee is promoted as “bird friendly” (Jones et al. 2002; Bakermans et al. 2009; Colorado et al. 2012).
Conservation Actions Proposed 
Investigate long-term population viability in response to forest management (J. Jones in litt. 2016). Protect intact primary forest ecosystems to maintain wintering populations. Prevent the conversion of shade coffee agroecosystems (which support high densities of wintering Cerulean warblers) into cattle lands (C. Rengifo in litt. 2012). Urgently protect key sites for the species in its breeding and non-breeding range. Conduct thorough environmental impact assessment prior to any mining operations to ensure that measures are taken to avoid destroying habitat and to mitigate against any negative impacts. Carry out reforestation with native tree species, especially at margins of existing habitat patches (J. Jones in litt. 2016).

Classifications [top]

1. Forest -> 1.4. Forest - Temperate
suitability:Suitable season:breeding major importance:Yes
1. Forest -> 1.6. Forest - Subtropical/Tropical Moist Lowland
suitability:Suitable season:non-breeding major importance:Yes
1. Forest -> 1.9. Forest - Subtropical/Tropical Moist Montane
suitability:Suitable season:non-breeding major importance:Yes
1. Land/water protection -> 1.1. Site/area protection
2. Land/water management -> 2.1. Site/area management
2. Land/water management -> 2.3. Habitat & natural process restoration
5. Law & policy -> 5.3. Private sector standards & codes

In-Place Research, Monitoring and Planning
  Action Recovery plan:No
  Systematic monitoring scheme:Yes
In-Place Land/Water Protection and Management
  Conservation sites identified:Yes, over entire range
  Occur in at least one PA:Yes
  Invasive species control or prevention:No
In-Place Species Management
  Successfully reintroduced or introduced beningly:No
  Subject to ex-situ conservation:No
In-Place Education
  Subject to recent education and awareness programmes:Yes
  Included in international legislation:Yes
  Subject to any international management/trade controls:No
1. Residential & commercial development -> 1.1. Housing & urban areas
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Minority (<50%) ♦ severity:Negligible declines  
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.1. Ecosystem conversion
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

1. Residential & commercial development -> 1.2. Commercial & industrial areas
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Minority (<50%) ♦ severity:Slow, Significant Declines  
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.1. Ecosystem conversion
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

2. Agriculture & aquaculture -> 2.1. Annual & perennial non-timber crops -> 2.1.3. Agro-industry farming
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Majority (50-90%) ♦ severity:Slow, Significant Declines  
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.1. Ecosystem conversion
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

2. Agriculture & aquaculture -> 2.3. Livestock farming & ranching -> 2.3.3. Agro-industry grazing, ranching or farming
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Majority (50-90%) ♦ severity:Slow, Significant Declines  
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.1. Ecosystem conversion
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

3. Energy production & mining -> 3.2. Mining & quarrying
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Majority (50-90%) ♦ severity:Slow, Significant Declines  
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.1. Ecosystem conversion
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

5. Biological resource use -> 5.3. Logging & wood harvesting -> 5.3.3. Unintentional effects: (subsistence/small scale) [harvest]
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Majority (50-90%) ♦ severity:Unknown  
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.1. Ecosystem conversion
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

1. Research -> 1.3. Life history & ecology

Bibliography [top]

Anon. 2007. Cerulean Warbler summit 2: Development and implementation of Conservation Actions.

AOU. 1983. Check-list of North American birds. American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D C.

Bakermans, M. H., & Rodewald, A. D. 2009. Think globally, manage locally: The importance of steady-state forest features for a declining songbird. Forest Ecology and Management 258: 224-232.

Bakermans, M. H.; Vitz, A. C.; Rodewald, A. D.; Rengifo, C. G. 2009. Migratory songbird use of shade coffee in the Venezuelan Andes with implications for conservation of Cerulean Warbler. Biological Conservation 142: 2476-2483.

Buehler, D. A., Giocomo, J. J., Jones, J., Hamel, P. B., Rogers, C. M., Beachy, T. A., Varble, D. W., Nicholson, C. P., Roth, K. L., Barg, J., Robertson, R. J., Robb, J. R., & Islam, K. 2008. Cerulean warbler reproduction, survival and models of population declines. Journal of Wildlife Management 72: 646-653.

Buehler, D. A, Hamel, P. B. & Boves, T. 2013. Cerulean Warbler (Setophaga cerulea). Available at:

Curson, J.; Quinn, D.; Beadle, D. 1994. New World warblers. A&C Black/Christopher Helm, London.

Hamel, P.B. 2000. Cerulean warbler. Birds of North America 511: 1-20.

Herzog, S. K.; García-Soliz, V. H.; Davis, S. E. 2009. Status of the Cerulean Warbler (Dendroica cerulea) at the southern terminus of its non-breeding range, with a review of other nearctic-neotropical migrant Parulidae in Bolivia. Ornitologia Neotropical 20(1): 121-130.

IUCN. 2016. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2016-3. Available at: (Accessed: 07 December 2016).

Parker III, T. A. 1994. Habitat, behavior, and spring migration of Cerulean Warbler in Belize. American Birds 48(70-75).

Register, S.; Islam, K. 2008. Effects of silvicultural treatments on Cerulean Warbler (Dendroica cerulea) abundance in southern Indiana. Forest Ecology and Management 255: 3502-3505.

Rengifo, C.; Nava, A.; Zambrano , M. 2005. Lista de Aves de La Mucuy y Mucubají, Parque Nacional Sierra Nevada, Mérida, Venezuela. Editorial Venezolana, Mérida, Venezuela.

Rosenberg, K. V., Kennedy, J. A., Dettmers, R., Ford, R. P., Reynolds, D., Alexander, J. D., Beardmore, C. J., Blancher, P. J., Bogart, R. E., Butcher, G. S., Camfield, A. F., Couturier, A., Demarest, D. W., Easton, W. E., Giocomo, J. J., Keller, R. H., Mini, A. E., Panjabi, A. O., Pashley, D. N., Rich, T. D., Ruth, J. M., Stabins, H., Stanton, J., & Will, T. 2016. Partners in Flight Landbird Conservation Plan: 2016 Revision for Canada and Continental United States. Partners in Flight Science Committee.

Roth, K. L.; Islam, K. 2008. Habitat selection and reproductive success of Cerulean Warblers in Indiana. Wilson Journal of Ornithology 120(1): 105-110.

Sauer, J. R., Hines, J. E., Fallon, J. E., Pardieck, K. L., Ziolkowski, D. J. Jr., & Link, W. A. 2014. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966 - 2013. Version 01.30.2015. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD.

Stiles, F.G. and Skutch, A.F. 1989. A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY.

Welton, M. J., Anderson, D. L., Colorado, G. J., Hamel, P. B., & Calderon, D. 2012. Spring migration stopover by Cerulean Warblers in northern Middle America. Ornitologia Neotropical 23: 291-307.

Wood, P. B., Bosworth, S. B., & Dettmers, R. 2006. Cerulean Warbler abundance and occurrence relative to large-scale edge and habitat characteristics. Condor 108: 154-165.

Wood, P. B., Duguay, J. P., & Nichols. J. V. 2005. Cerulean Warbler use of regenerated clearcut and two-age harvests. Wildlife Society Bulletin 33: 851-858.

Wood, P. B., Sheehan, J., Keyser, P., Buehler, D., Larkin, J., Rodewald, A., Stoleson, S., Wigley, T. B., Mizel, J., Boves, T., George, G., Bakermans, M., Beachy, T., Evans, A., McDermott, M., Newell, F., Perkins, K., & White. M. 2013. Management guidelines for enhancing Cerulean Warbler breeding habitat in Appalachian hardwood forests. American Bird Conservancy, The Plains, Virginia.

Citation: BirdLife International. 2016. Setophaga cerulea. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T22721740A94727829. . Downloaded on 24 September 2018.
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