Limnothlypis swainsonii - (Audubon, 1834)
Swainson's Warbler
Other English Common Names: Swainson's warbler
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
Related ITIS Name(s): Limnothlypis swainsonii (Audubon, 1834) (TSN 178848)
French Common Names: Paruline de Swainson
Spanish Common Names: Chipe Corona Café
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.103514
Element Code: ABPBX09010
Informal Taxonomy: Animals, Vertebrates - Birds - Perching Birds
 
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Animalia Craniata Aves Passeriformes Parulidae Limnothlypis
Genus Size: A - Monotypic genus
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Concept Reference
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Concept Reference: American Ornithologists' Union (AOU). 1998. Check-list of North American birds. Seventh edition. American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C. [as modified by subsequent supplements and corrections published in The Auk]. Also available online: http://www.aou.org/.
Concept Reference Code: B98AOU01NAUS
Name Used in Concept Reference: Limnothlypis swainsonii
Conservation Status
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NatureServe Status

Global Status: G4
Global Status Last Reviewed: 09Apr2016
Global Status Last Changed: 03Dec1996
Ranking Methodology Used: Ranked by calculator
Rounded Global Status: G4 - Apparently Secure
Reasons: Breeds in southeastern United States, winters in West Indies, Mexico, and neighboring regions; rare and local in breeding range; still occupies much of historical range extent, though a large percentage of habitat has been lost or unfavorably altered; much lowland hardwood habitat is privately owned and subject to harvest or conversion to pine plantations; apparently sensitive to habitat fragmentation, successional stage, and probably the spatial arrangement of habitat blocks, thus requiring sensitive planning wherever wet lowland forest harvest continues; preference for successional habitat increases chances of surviving despite timber harvest; locally, harassment by birdwatchers is a problem; better information is needed on impact of winter habitat alteration; apparently relatively stable, but trend is uncertain and difficult to determine; probably undersampled throughout range because of difficult access to habitat; present in several large protected areas; 
Nation: United States
National Status: N4B (19Mar1997)

U.S. & Canada State/Province Status
Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
United States Alabama (S4B), Arkansas (S3B), Delaware (SHB), Florida (S3B), Georgia (S3), Illinois (S1), Kentucky (S3S4B), Louisiana (S4B), Maryland (S1B), Mississippi (S3S4B), Missouri (S2), New Jersey (SNR), North Carolina (S3S4B), Oklahoma (S1B), South Carolina (S4), Tennessee (S3), Texas (S3B), Virginia (S2B), West Virginia (S3B)

Other Statuses

IUCN Red List Category: LC - Least concern

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

Range Extent: 200,000-2,500,000 square km (about 80,000-1,000,000 square miles)
Range Extent Comments: Breeding range extends locally from east-central and mid-coastal Texas, southeastern Oklahoma, southern Missouri, and Arkansas to southwestern and eastern Kentucky, western and eastern Tennessee, and Alabama, and farther east to West Virginia, western Virginia, the Dismal Swamp area of southeastern Virginia, and South Carolina, and south to the Panhandle region of western Florida and the Gulf Coast (Anich et al. 2010); mostly in the Coastal Plain but also the southern Appalachians (AOU 1983, Brown and Dickson 1994). This species winters regularly in the Bahamas, Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, and as far east (rarely) as Anguilla, and on the mainland in the Yucatán Peninsula (including Guatemala and Belize) and also to the west, but distribution from the Yucatán Peninsula to Veracruz is poorly understood; casual and accidental records elsewhere (see Anich et al. 2010).

Birdlife International (website, 2015) estimated the breeding distribution size (EOO, Extent of Occurrence) to be 261,000 square kilometers, but it is much larger than that.

Area of Occupancy: Unknown 4-km2 grid cells
Area of Occupancy Comments: Area of occupancy is unknown.

Number of Occurrences:  
Number of Occurrences Comments: The number of distinct occurrences has not been determined using standardized criteria, but this species has been detected in a large number of sites in recent years (e.g., see eBird web site).

Population Size: 10,000 - 100,000 individuals
Population Size Comments: This is one of the least common North American warblers (Morse 1989, which see for a discussion of possible reasons for rarity). Nowhere is this species abundant, rarely is it even locally common, and the best sites usually include only a few breeding pairs. However, is likely to be under-sampled because of difficulty in surveying in its dense thicket habitat. Partners in Flight (2013) estimated global population size at 90,000, whereas National Audubon Society (2014) estimated it to be 64,000.

Overall Threat Impact: Low
Overall Threat Impact Comments: Threats include habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation from agricultural development, urbanization, extensive timber harvest (though species breeds in some young managed forests), flooding of bottomlands by reservoirs, alteration of natural flooding regimes, channelization of rivers, construction of levee systems, and surface mining, and nest parasitism by brown-headed cowbirds (Byrd and Johnston 1991, Anich et al. 2010, Benson et al. 2010). Habitat fragmentation may lead to increased levels of predation and cowbird parasitism. Migrating individuals sometimes collide with towers and other tall structures (see Anich et al. 2010), but the population impact of this may be relatively minor. Locally, birdwatchers' excessive use of taped calls to attract birds can be harmful, but this is unlikely to have significant range-wide population impact. Better information is needed on the impact of habitat alteration in the nonbreeding range.

Short-term Trend: Relatively Stable to increase of <25%
Short-term Trend Comments: Breeding Bird Survey data for 2003-2013 indicate a relatively stable or slowly increasing population, but the number of individuals detected per survey route is very low, so the reliability of the trend estimate is low. Additionally, BBS methods are not well suited to this or other species with specialized habitat requirements, so BBS trend data must be interpreted with caution.

Long-term Trend: Decline of 50-80%
Long-term Trend Comments: Over the long term (200 years), distribution and abundance likely have decreased substantially with habitat loss, though the precise degree of decline is uncertain. The species has experienced drastic declines in some areas, such as Illinois (where it has been almost extirpated), southern Missouri, and northeastern Oklahoma (National Audubon Society 2014). Over the past several decades, Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) data suggest an increasing population, but BBS methods are not well suited to this or other species with specialized habitat requirements..

Intrinsic Vulnerability: Moderately vulnerable to not intrinsically vulnerable.
Intrinsic Vulnerability Comments: Habitat management for this species has met with limited success, suggesting that there is a lack of complete understanding of the habitat requirements for this species (National Audubon Society 2014).  This lack of understanding makes this species vulnerable to human-induced changes within an area.

Environmental Specificity: Moderate. Generalist or community with some key requirements scarce.
Environmental Specificity Comments: Key components of breeding habitat include dense canopy cover with occasional disturbance gaps that function to maintain dense shrub-level vegetation for nesting, abundant leaf litter, sparse herbaceous vegetation, moist soils, appropriate hydrologic regimes, and substantial forest cover at the landscape scale  (Anich et. al. 2010).

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Inventory Needs: Determine population abundance and distribution, especially in Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Florida, and Louisiana. Periodic surveys to detect trends across range are also needed. Inventory must be directed specifically at this species, targeting appropriate habitat, because general surveys (BBA, BBS) will not adequately sample this species.

Protection Needs: Increase protection of habitat in Atlantic and Gulf Coastal Plain and Mississippi Valley. Educate bird-watchers especially in East to refrain from using taped calls.

Distribution
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Global Range: (200,000-2,500,000 square km (about 80,000-1,000,000 square miles)) Breeding range extends locally from east-central and mid-coastal Texas, southeastern Oklahoma, southern Missouri, and Arkansas to southwestern and eastern Kentucky, western and eastern Tennessee, and Alabama, and farther east to West Virginia, western Virginia, the Dismal Swamp area of southeastern Virginia, and South Carolina, and south to the Panhandle region of western Florida and the Gulf Coast (Anich et al. 2010); mostly in the Coastal Plain but also the southern Appalachians (AOU 1983, Brown and Dickson 1994). This species winters regularly in the Bahamas, Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, and as far east (rarely) as Anguilla, and on the mainland in the Yucatán Peninsula (including Guatemala and Belize) and also to the west, but distribution from the Yucatán Peninsula to Veracruz is poorly understood; casual and accidental records elsewhere (see Anich et al. 2010).

Birdlife International (website, 2015) estimated the breeding distribution size (EOO, Extent of Occurrence) to be 261,000 square kilometers, but it is much larger than that.

U.S. States and Canadian Provinces

Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
Color legend for Distribution Map
NOTE: The maps for birds represent the breeding status by state and province. In some jurisdictions, the subnational statuses for common species have not been assessed and the status is shown as not-assessed (SNR). In some jurisdictions, the subnational status refers to the status as a non-breeder; these errors will be corrected in future versions of these maps. A species is not shown in a jurisdiction if it is not known to breed in the jurisdiction or if it occurs only accidentally or casually in the jurisdiction. Thus, the species may occur in a jurisdiction as a seasonal non-breeding resident or as a migratory transient but this will not be indicated on these maps. See other maps on this web site that depict the Western Hemisphere ranges of these species at all seasons of the year.
Endemism: occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations, but breeds in a single nation

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States AL, AR, DE, FL, GA, IL, KY, LA, MD, MO, MS, NC, NJ, OK, SC, TN, TX, VA, WV

Range Map
Note: Range depicted for New World only. The scale of the maps may cause narrow coastal ranges or ranges on small islands not to appear. Not all vagrant or small disjunct occurrences are depicted. For migratory birds, some individuals occur outside of the passage migrant range depicted. For information on how to obtain shapefiles of species ranges see our Species Mapping pages at www.natureserve.org/conservation-tools/data-maps-tools.

Range Map Compilers: NatureServe, 2002


U.S. Distribution by County Help
State County Name (FIPS Code)
AR Arkansas (05001), Cleveland (05025), Columbia (05027), Cross (05037), Dallas (05039), Desha (05041), Drew (05043), Grant (05053), Jefferson (05069), Lee (05077), Lonoke (05085), Marion (05089), Mississippi (05093), Monroe (05095), Newton (05101), Phillips (05107), Poinsett (05111), Pulaski (05119), Searcy (05129), Sebastian (05131), Sevier (05133), Stone (05137), Washington (05143)
GA Bleckley (13023), Glynn (13127), Greene (13133), Habersham (13137), Houston (13153), Jeff Davis (13161), Jones (13169), Laurens (13175), Liberty (13179), Meriwether (13199), Muscogee (13215), Rabun (13241), Screven (13251), Tattnall (13267), Wayne (13305)
IL Alexander (17003)*, Jackson (17077), Johnson (17087)*, Pulaski (17153), Wabash (17185)
MD Somerset (24039)*, Wicomico (24045), Worcester (24047)
MO Barry (29009), Butler (29023), Carter (29035), Douglas (29067), Mississippi (29133)*, New Madrid (29143), Oregon (29149), Shannon (29203), Taney (29213), Wayne (29223)
MS Attala (28007)*, Carroll (28015)*, Hinds (28049), Holmes (28051)*, Jackson (28059), Jones (28067)*, Lowndes (28087), Madison (28089)*, Marshall (28093), Monroe (28095), Pearl River (28109), Rankin (28121), Tishomingo (28141), Warren (28149), Wilkinson (28157)*, Yazoo (28163)*
SC Abbeville (45001)*, Beaufort (45013)*, Berkeley (45015)*, Charleston (45019), Chesterfield (45025), Dorchester (45035)*, Greenville (45045)*, Pickens (45077)*
TN Anderson (47001), Blount (47009)*, Campbell (47013), Carter (47019), Crockett (47033), Decatur (47039)*, Dyer (47045), Fentress (47049), Gibson (47053), Hamilton (47065), Hardeman (47069), Hardin (47071), Haywood (47075)*, Henderson (47077)*, Johnson (47091)*, Lake (47095), Lauderdale (47097)*, McMinn (47107)*, McNairy (47109), Monroe (47123), Montgomery (47125)*, Morgan (47129), Obion (47131)*, Pickett (47137), Polk (47139), Roane (47145), Scott (47151), Sevier (47155), Shelby (47157), Stewart (47161)*, Sullivan (47163)*, Unicoi (47171), Washington (47179), Weakley (47183), White (47185)
VA Chesapeake (City) (51550), Dickenson (51051), Greensville (51081), Scott (51169), Southampton (51175), Suffolk (City) (51800), Wise (51195)
WV Nicholas (54067)
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
U.S. Distribution by Watershed Help
Watershed Region Help Watershed Name (Watershed Code)
02 Pokomoke-Western Lower Delmarva (02080111)+, Hampton Roads (02080208)+
03 Ghowan (03010203)+, Meheriin (03010204)+, Albemarle (03010205)+, Lower Pee Dee (03040201)+, Saluda (03050109)+*, Cooper (03050201)+, Edisto (03050205)+*, Broad-St. Helena (03050208)+*, Seneca (03060101)+*, Tugaloo (03060102)+, Upper Savannah (03060103)+*, Middle Savannah (03060106)+, Calibogue Sound-Wright River (03060110)+*, Ogeechee Coastal (03060204)+, Upper Oconee (03070101)+, Lower Oconee (03070102)+, Lower Ocmulgee (03070104)+, Altamaha (03070106)+, Middle Chattahoochee-Lake Harding (03130002)+, Upper Flint (03130005)+, Upper Tombigbee (03160101)+, Lower Leaf (03170005)+*, Pascagoula (03170006)+, Middle Pearl-Strong (03180002)+, Lower Pearl. Mississippi (03180004)+
05 Gauley (05050005)+, Upper Levisa (05070202)+, Lower Wabash (05120113)+, South Fork Cumberland (05130104)+, Caney (05130108)+, Lower Cumberland (05130205)+*, Red (05130206)+*, Lower Ohio (05140206)+*
06 South Fork Holston (06010102)+*, Watauga (06010103)+, Upper French Broad (06010105)+*, Lower French Broad (06010107)+, Nolichucky (06010108)+, Watts Bar Lake (06010201)+*, Lower Little Tennessee (06010204)+, Upper Clinch (06010205)+, Powell (06010206)+, Lower Clinch (06010207)+, Middle Tennessee-Chickamauga (06020001)+, Hiwassee (06020002)+, Ocoee (06020003)+, Bear (06030006)+, Lower Tennessee-Beech (06040001)+
07 Upper Mississippi-Cape Girardeau (07140105)+*, Big Muddy (07140106)+, Cache (07140108)+
08 Lower Mississippi-Memphis (08010100)+, Obion (08010202)+, South Fork Obion (08010203)+, North Fork Forked Deer (08010204)+, South Fork Forked Deer (08010205)+, Lower Hatchie (08010208)+, Loosahatchie (08010209)+*, Wolf (08010210)+*, Horn Lake-Nonconnah (08010211)+*, Lower Mississippi-Helena (08020100)+, New Madrid-St. Johns (08020201)+*, Upper St. Francis (08020202)+, Lower St. Francis (08020203)+, Little River Ditches (08020204)+, Lower White (08020303)+, Lower Arkansas (08020401)+, Bayou Meto (08020402)+, Little Tallahatchie (08030201)+, Lower Yazoo (08030208)+, Upper Ouachita (08040102)+, Lower Ouachita-Smackover (08040201)+, Upper Saline (08040203)+, Lower Saline (08040204)+, Bayou Bartholomew (08040205)+, Bayou D'arbonne (08040206)+, Lower Mississippi-Natchez (08060100)+, Upper Big Black (08060201)+*, Lower Big Black (08060202)+*, Buffalo (08060206)+*, Bayou Sara-Thompson (08070201)+*
11 Beaver Reservoir (11010001)+, Bull Shoals Lake (11010003)+, Middle White (11010004)+, Buffalo (11010005)+, North Fork White (11010006)+, Upper Black (11010007)+, Current (11010008)+, Eleven Point (11010011)+, Illinois (11110103)+, Frog-Mulberry (11110201)+, Lower Arkansas-Maumelle (11110207)+, Lower Little (11140109)+
+ Natural heritage record(s) exist for this watershed
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
Ecology & Life History
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Basic Description: A small bird (ground-feeding warbler).
Reproduction Comments: Eggs are laid late April or May through July. Clutches have been reported ranging from two to five eggs, but usually number three, with four rare and five very rare (Bent 1953). Whether or not two clutches per season is ordinary is controversial. Meanley (1971) reported observing birds laying two clutches. Clawson and Thomas (no date) doubted that they routinely attempt second broods, based on comparisons with closely related species. Incubation by female is 13 to 15 days, and young remain in the nest 10 to 12 days and accompany parents for two to three weeks more (Meanley 1971, Clawson and Thomas, no date)

Reproductive success was low at nests observed by Meanley (1971) in coastal plain habitat. He reported that only three of 16 nests (which he was "reasonably sure" he had not disturbed) were successful. Cowbird parasitization was the cause of at least three failures. Common grackles (QUISCALUS QUISCULA) and blue jays (CYANOCITTA CRISTATA) also robbed nests. Snake predation was also documented. Meanley concluded (1971) that "In the Coastal Plain part of its range the Swainson's Warbler would probably have a difficult time maintaining its present population level."

One instance of apparent polygyny with aggregated nest placement was recently reported in the literature (Graves 1992). Knowledge of how common such behavior is would be useful in estimating population size from singing male counts.

Ecology Comments: POPULATION DENSITY: Little quantitative information on population density has been published, and most has apparently been records of remarkably high densities, so that virtually nothing is known about average densities. Meanley (1971) reported the highest densities recorded in a 2.8 ha tract cane stand in Georgia (1.8 singing males per hectare in 1963). This population declined to 0.4 males per hectare in 1968. In the scrub palmetto habitat of Bayou Boeuf Swamp, Louisiana, density was 0.25 territorial males per ha (Meanley 1971). In 1991, Graves (1992) recorded about 0.17 singing males per ha at Whiskey Bay Pilot Channel of the Atchafalaya River, St. Martin Parish, Louisiana. Dickson (1977) reported a density of 0.25 males per ha in an oak-gum stand in Louisiana. Density is also reflected by transect counts. Meanley (1971) reported that on one 0.8 km transect he counted eight territorial males (10 per km) in the Dismal Swamp, Virginia. It is not clear whether this transect was representative or exceptional, but on another 5.2 km transect in the Dismal Swamp, he found only eight territorial males in sweet pepperbush-greenbrier undergrowth (1.5 per km). Near Macon, Georgia he reported 19 singing males along a 5.2 km transect through Bond Swamp (3.6 per km).

Density is expected to vary inversely with territory size. Predictably, territory size varies with quality and continuity of habitat. Meanley (1971) summarized the literature on known territory size. Territories ranged from as little as 0.12 ha in the canebrake habitat of the Ocmulgee River bottom in Georgia, to nearly two ha in the Dismal Swamp of Virginia. The average size of a total of 87 territories in giant cane patches near Macon, Georgia was about 0.4 ha. Graves (1992) observed that territories are exceptionally large in relation to most other wood warblers, and males defend their territories for a long period of the year (early April to early July and sometimes later).

POPULATION ESTABLISHMENT AND MAINTENANCE: The males tend to return to the same territory in successive years. Meanley (1971) reported one instance of a male found in the same territory for five seasons, and another for three successive years.

The southern Appalachian population was not discovered until the 1930s (Bent 1953). This population is generally thought to be a new extension of the range from the coastal plain population. Morse (1989) cites "the apparent rapid increase of the species in the Appalachians" as well as the fact that the warbler is "vocally conspicuous" to support this claim. Morse (1989) suggests that the supposed habitat expansion into the mountains is one reason this warbler has recovered while Bachman's warbler, thought to be a strict canebrake specialist, has not. Wintering warblers are divided into two fairly discrete populations; those that normally winter in the West Indies, and those that normally winter on the Yucatan Peninsula. However, birds from each population have been reported wintering in the other location at times. This may allow occasional formation of new wintering populations (Lack and Lack 1972, Morse 1989). It may also allow one subpopulation to serve as a refugium for the other when one area suffers a population decline. This flexibility in wintering habitat choice may be another reason why this warbler has survived while Bachman's warbler (VERMIVORA BACHMANII), which winters only in the West Indies, has continued to decline (Morse 1989).

Non-Migrant: N
Locally Migrant: N
Long Distance Migrant: Y
Mobility and Migration Comments: Some migrants apparently fly across Gulf, others around it. Migrates through coastal eastern Mexico. Earliest migrants reach the southern U.S. usually by late March or early April. Most depart from breeding areas in Arkansas and Georgia by mid-September (Meanley 1971).

Shows high site fidelity and specific habitat patches may be occupied by the same adults for many years (Meanley 1971). Territory sizes ranged from 0.12 to about 2 hectares (Meanley 1971).

Palustrine Habitat(s): FORESTED WETLAND, Riparian
Terrestrial Habitat(s): Forest - Conifer, Forest - Hardwood, Forest - Mixed, Shrubland/chaparral, Woodland - Conifer, Woodland - Hardwood, Woodland - Mixed
Habitat Comments: BREEDING: Rich, damp, deciduous floodplain and swamp forests; requires areas with deep shade from both canopy and understory cover (Meanley 1971, Bushman and Therres 1988). On the coastal plain, occurs in the shadiest parts of the forest, with dense upper canopy, lower canopy and shrubs, and little herbaceous cover. The shrub stratum is often nearly monospecific stands of giant cane (ARUNDINARIA GIGANTEA) in floodplain forest; sweet pepperbush or fetterbush in swamps at the northern end of range such as the Great Dismal Swamp in Virginia and Pocomoke Swamp in Maryland and Virginia and headwater swamps of the Atlantic Coastal Plain; or scrub palmetto in bottomlands. Graves' (2001) data suggested "a preference for early successional forest in the current landscape or disturbance gaps in primeval forest." In the mountains, moist lower slopes of mountain ravines at elevations to 900 m are preferred, and a shrub layer of rhododendron is most common (Bent 1953, Meanley 1971, Hooper and Hamel 1979). Individuals were found primarily in sawtimber and to a lesser extent in pole stands of second-growth cove forests in the Southern Appalachians (Hooper 1978). Although often reported to inhabit canebrakes in the literature, it is clearly not exclusively a cane species; structure of the habitat - both overstory and dense shrub understory canopies characteristic of successional forests - is apparently of primary importance, and a variety of shrubs will do (Graves 2001).

There are few quantified descriptions of habitat. Graves (2001) found that territories in Great Dismal Swamp were characterized by extensive understory thickets (median of 36,220 small woody stems and cane culms per hectare), frequent greebriar tangles, deep shade at ground level and an abundance of leaf litter overlying moist organic soils. These sites occurred most frequently in relatively well-drained tracts of broad-leaf forest that had suffered extensive canopy damage and windthrow (Graves 2001). Meanley (1971) noted that as of 1968 there were still some sections in the Ocmulgee floodplain forest (near Macon, Georgia) "where canebrakes, nearly uninterrupted, covered 1-sq mile areas." He recorded densities of cane poles of about 50,000 per ha, averaging five m high, and some reaching to 10 m. In Monkey John Swamp in South Carolina, Meanley recorded 90% canopy coverage ("density"). The scrub palmetto understory averaged about one m in height, with about 20,000 plants per ha.

Eddleman et al. (1980) provide another quantified look at habitat characteristics in southern Illinois in the Shawnee National Forest. Some of their conclusions differ from those of Meanley. Eddleman et al. (1980) found that the species composition of overstory varied widely among territories and concluded that it had little effect on habitat selection. However, a substantial majority of the birds in their study nested in soft-mixed hardwoods (25 of 36). While the majority of singing males in their study were in forest with overstory trees over 20 yr old, they were found in habitats ranging from late successional old fields with dense shrubs and surrounded by mature forest, to late successional forest. Figures on the frequency of territories falling in each stage were not given. Meanley (1971) noted a few cases where they were found in what he deemed to be marginal habitat (mostly drier areas). He attributed these cases to areas where the warblers were locally common, and the population "spilled over" from optimum to marginal habitats. This is a possible explanation for the discovery of this warbler in unlikely habitat such as late-successional old fields.

In the Eddleman et al. (1980) study, individuals were never found in habitat with trees less than 7.6 m tall. Canopy coverage was always greater than 55%, and usually greater than 75%. Shrub stems (mostly cane) averaged over 26,000 stems/ha in their study, compared to nearly twice that in a study by Meanley (1966) in Georgia. These Illinois birds were only found in sites where soils were alluvial silts and clays. Male territories were limited to forest tracts at least 350 ha in size, and birds were always found within 200 m of water.

Eddleman et al. (1980) concluded that younger cane stands are needed, that cane needs openings to regenerate and that logging can be used to create openings to manage canebrake habitat. These conclusions have not been corroborated by follow- up studies. And apparently, no further studies characterizing habitat in other locations have been published. Results of timber cuts in warbler habitat in the Shawnee and South Carolina are described under Management Requirements.

While most accounts agree that this ground-foraging bird prefers areas with little to no live ground cover, accounts of the midstory of the forest vary. Burger (pers. comm.) reports that they are found in cane stands within forests with good overstory, and no midstory, while Meanley (1971) reported three layers to the forest canopy. Nests in understory canes, shrubs, vine tangles, and similar sites, 0.5-3 m above ground, typically within about 200 m of open water, near the edge of a cane stand rather than in the densest part (see Bushman and Therres 1988). In Missouri, all of 29 territories and 16 nests that were found were in stands of cane (Figg 1993).

This species can be difficult to locate and breeding may occur sparsely throughout areas of suitable habitat previously thought to be unoccupied (e.g. in Maryland, McCann and Heckscher, pers. obs. 1998).

NON-BREEDING: In winter probably occurs in undergrowth of mature forest. It has been suggested that the loss of cane habitat in Cuba has been detrimental to wintering populations (Morse 1989). While this may be true, the birds also occur in upland forest with moderate leaf litter in Peninsula de Zapata, Cuba (Hamel, pers. comm.).

Adult Food Habits: Invertivore
Immature Food Habits: Invertivore
Food Comments: Primarily a ground feeder (searches among leaves) but also may glean prey from low foliage. Eats insects (ants, beetles. beetle larvae, caterpillars, crickets, wasps, stinkbugs), millipedes, and spiders (Meanley 1971, Terres 1980).
Length: 14 centimeters
Weight: 19 grams
Economic Attributes Not yet assessed
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Management Summary
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Stewardship Overview: The breeding range is centered in the southeastern United States, and the nonbreeding range in the Caribbean and Yucatan Peninsula. It seeks moist forested areas with fairly closed canopy and dense shrub undergrowth which provides nesting habitat and open ground for foraging. Successional forest stages usually provide the best dense shrub cover. This bird has probably always been generally rare, though it may be locally common. It has suffered in the past century from habitat destruction, especially floodplain deforestation and flooding from dam and reservoir construction. It is in greatest need of conservation along the periphery of its range, especially on the north. Two major stewardship needs identified are more complete range-wide inventory and research on the effects of various management techniques.
Restoration Potential: It is unlikely that much of the former habitat will ever be restored, especially that which is now lying beneath reservoirs. On the other hand, some of the remaining habitat could be improved. Restoration of agricultural lands to forest in river floodplains could produce vast areas of possible habitat (Hamel, pers. comm.).
Preserve Selection & Design Considerations: Habitat has been analyzed quantitatively mainly in Illinois (Eddleman et al. 1980), although informal measures were taken by Meanley (1971) in several southeastern states, and habitat characterization is in process in Missouri. Thus the following criteria may not apply everywhere. To create a good preserve , the site should have overstory trees that form a dense canopy (75% or more canopy closure). Trees should be at least 7.6 m tall. Shrub stems (cane, pepperbush, rhododendron) should be dense: between 26,000 stems/ha and 50,000 stems/ ha for cane, and unknown for other species (Meanly 1971, Eddleman et al. 1980). Canebrakes should not be senescent, and perhaps should be less than 30 years old, as suggested by Eddleman et al., but this should be subjected to further field testing. Ground cover less than 34% is best and perhaps the optimal ground cover is much less. At least in Illinois, a site with alluvial silts and clays is important.

Eddleman et al. (1980) believe that forest tracts should be at least 350 ha in size, and nesting sites should be available no more than 200 m from water. This size requirement may vary greatly among different habitats, however. Meanly (1971) reported a population nesting in a canebrake less than three ha in extent, suggesting that the birds may be able to use much smaller tracts under some circumstances. However, he did not give the extent of the larger forested tract surrounding the canebrake. In Florida, some 1200 ha would be a reasonable size for a preserve for a small population, though it would need to be part of a larger complex of such sites to ensure a viable population (Cox, pers. comm.).

Accessibility of the site for bird-watchers should also be considered. The more accessible, the less protectable the site is likely to be. Bird-watchers' repeated use of taped calls can cause the warblers to quit using a nesting territory.

Management Requirements: Since the habitat is successional, rather than climax, management must be aimed at regenerating suitable dense-shrub understory conditions on a temporal and spatial rotation adequate to maintain the warbler in the general area. It has been observed to reoccupy clearcut stands after a few years in South Carolina coastal plain bottomland hardwood habitat (Cely, pers. comm.), but this has not been formally studied in the region.

So far the only published recommendations for this type of management are in Eddleman et al. (1980). Their suggestions were derived from observing habitat, rather than by experimentation, and thus require testing before their value can be assessed. They stated that coastal plain habitat requires management to maintain canebrakes in good condition for nesting; without management the cane would eventually die under complete canopy closure. They suggested that small forest clearcuts are a good management tool for regenerating canebrakes. However, Bushman and Therres (1988) disagreed, noting that "enough natural canopy openings will occur through natural processes that any logging, selective or otherwise, should be avoided." Eddleman et al. (1980) went on to suggest the following guidelines: 1) Allow wildlife openings to undergo reforestation when cane invades; 2) To expand canebrake habitat, clearcuts near established canebrakes would provide suitable conditions for the spread of giant cane. 3) Selective cutting of mature trees in warbler territories could be practiced if at least 70% canopy closure were maintained. 4) Cutting should be confined to 1 October to 1 April to avoid breeding season. 5) Clearcuts should be no larger than 4 ha to minimize habitat disturbance, and contiguous woods should not be cut for 10 to 15 years to allow canopy regeneration in the cut-over area.

Southern Illinois' Shawnee National Forest attempted to use forest harvests as a management tool for regenerating canebrakes in Swainson's warbler habitat, apparently following Eddleman et al.'s suggestions. These efforts appeared unsuccessful as of 1992, as the warblers had not been seen in the area from 1990 to 1992 (Spanel pers. comm., Kleen pers. comm.). However, it is unknown how long it should take for cutover forest to become habitat, and so it may be too soon to judge the success of this management (Hamel pers. comm.). How to maintain canebrakes or other dense-shrub understory for this warbler's use is apparently still an open question.

Hamel (1980) reported on management guidelines in the Francis Marion National Forest in South Carolina, based on his field work, including quanitified habitat measurements in 20 plots. He described the key requirements as dense, woody understory growth two to five m tall, very shady at ground-level. These thickets were most easily generated by moderate disturbance to canopy trees, such as windthrow, lightning kills, small group selection cutting, or extensive thinning. The birds were also known to breed in areas clear-cut ten to 20 yr previously. Hamel proposed that populations would be enhanced by such harvesting procedures as firewood cutting, small group selection cutting, and thinning in bottomland hardwood stands.

Monitoring Requirements: Little is known about population size through most the range. The habitat is quite difficult to access, and so it cannot easily be tracked by casual observations. Periodic surveys of a sampling of suitable sites in different portions of the breeding range are needed to determine the status and protection needs of this rare species. A serious concern is that over-use of taped calls by bird watchers or researchers can drive these birds from an area (Kleen, pers. comm.), so a minimum number of years between surveys should also be set, pending more information on sensitivity to disturbance. Monitoring programs should include sites at the extremes of the range (to detect range shifts), as well as in the center of the range (to detect overall trends). Wintering sites should also be included. Nesting success should also be monitored across the species' range and comparing different habitat characteristics, to get a clearer picture of the status, as well as clues for good management practices.
Management Research Needs: Methods of encouraging establishment and maintenance of cane and other dense shrub understories, effects of various forest management practices (e.g. size of cut area, methods, spatial distribution of cuts) on the warblers, relationship of cowbird parasitization to nest site characteristics, and impact of cowbird parasitization appear to be the most immediate needs. Size of habitat blocks, and more information on habitat requirements in various parts of range are needed; minimum viable population size would also be useful.
Biological Research Needs: Determine compatibility with various habitat management techniques. Investigate cowbird parasitization in relation to habitat characteristics and adjacent management. Document reproductive success rates across range and habitat type. Study area-sensitivity.
Population/Occurrence Delineation
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Group Name: Passerines

Use Class: Breeding
Subtype(s): Foraging Area, Nest Site, Nesting Colony
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: Evidence of historical breeding, or current and likely recurring breeding, at a given location, minimally a reliable observation of one or more breeding pairs in appropriate habitat. Be cautious about creating EOs for observations that may represent single breeding events outside the normal breeding distribution.

Mapping Guidance: Breeding occurrences include nesting areas as well as foraging areas.

For swallows and other species that have separate nesting and foraging areas, separations are based on nest sites or nesting areas, not to locations of foraging individuals. For example, nesting areas separated by a gap larger than the separation distance are different occurrences, regardless of the foraging locations of individuals from those nesting areas. This separation procedure is appropriate because nesting areas are the critical aspect of swallow breeding occurrences, tend to be relatively stable or at least somwhat predictable in general location, and so are the basis for effective conservation; foraging areas are much more flexible and not necessarily static.

Separation Distance for Unsuitable Habitat: 5 km
Separation Distance for Suitable Habitat: 5 km
Separation Justification: Significant dispersal and associated high potential for gene flow among populations of birds separated by tens of kilometers (e.g., Moore and Dolbeer 1989), and increasing evidence that individuals leave their usual home range to engage in extrapair copulations, as well as long foraging excursions of some species, make it difficult to circumscribe occurrences on the basis of meaningful population units without occurrences becoming too large. Hence, a moderate, standardized separation distance has been adopted for songbirds and flycatchers; it should yield occurrences that are not too spatially expansive while also accounting for the likelihood of gene flow among populations within a few kilometers of each other.

Be careful not to separate a population's nesting areas and foraging areas as different occurrences; include them in the same occurrence even if they are more than 5 km apart. Mean foraging radius (from nesting area) of Brown-headed Cowbird females was 4.0 kilometers in California, 1.2 kilometers in Illinois-Missouri (Thompson 1994). Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Brewer's Blackbirds, and probably Red-winged Blackbirds all forage up to 1.6 kilometers away from breeding colony (Willson 1966, Horn 1968). In one study, Brewer's Blackbirds were found as far as 10 kilometers from nesting area (Williams 1952), but this may be unusual.

For swallows and other parrerines with similar behavioral ecology, separation distance pertains to nest sites or nesting colonies, not to locations of foraging individuals. For example, nesting areas separated by a gap of more than 5 km are different occurrences, regardless of the foraging locations of individuals from those nesting areas. This separation procedure is appropriate because nesting areas are the critical aspect of swallow breeding occurrences, tend to be relatively stable or at least somwhat predictable in general location, and so are the basis for effective conservation; foraging areas are much more flexible and not necessarily static.

Be cautious about creating EOs for observations that may represent single breeding events outside the normal breeding distribution.

Unsuitable habitat: Habitat not normally used for breeding/feeding by a particular species. For example, unsuitable habitat for grassland and shrubland birds includes forest/woodland, urban/suburban, and aquatic habitats. Most habitats would be suitable for birds with versatile foraging habits (e.g., most corvids).

Date: 10Sep2004
Author: Hammerson, G.

Use Class: Migratory stopover
Subtype(s): Foraging Area, Roost Site
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: For most passerines: Evidence of recurring presence of migrating individuals (including historical) and potential recurring presence at a given location; minimally a reliable observation of 25 birds in appropriate habitat.

For swallows: Evidence of recurring presence of migrating flocks (including historical) and potential recurring presence at a given location; minimally a reliable observation of 100 birds in appropriate habitat (e.g., traditional roost sites).

Occurrences should be locations where the species is resident for some time during the appropriate season; it is preferable to have observations documenting presence over at least 7 days annually.

EOs should not be described for species that are nomadic during nonbreeding season: e.g., Lark Bunting.

Be cautious about creating EOs for observations that may represent single events.

Separation Distance for Unsuitable Habitat: 5 km
Separation Distance for Suitable Habitat: 5 km
Separation Justification: Separation distance somewhat arbitrary but intended to define occurrences of managable size for conservation purposes. Occurrences defined primarily on the basis of areas supporting concentrations of birds, rather than on the basis of distinct populations.

For swallows and other species with similar behavioral ecology, the separation distance pertains to communal roost sites rather than to foraging areas; the former tend to be more stable and specific over time than the latter.

Date: 03Sep2004
Author: Hammerson, G., and S. Cannings

Use Class: Nonbreeding
Subtype(s): Foraging Area, Roost Site
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: Any area used traditionally in the nonbreeding season (used for populations that are not resident in a location year-round). Minimally, reliable observations of 10 or more individuals in appropriate habitat for 20 or more days at a time. For G1-G3 species, observations of fewer individuals could constitute an occurrence of conservation value. Sites used during migration should be documented under the 'migratory stopover' location use class.

Separation Distance for Unsuitable Habitat: 5 km
Separation Distance for Suitable Habitat: 5 km
Separation Justification: Separation distance is necessarily arbitrary but attempts to balance the high mobility of birds with the need for occurrences of reasonable spatial scope. Note that a population's roost sites and foraging areas are parts of the same occurrence, even if they are more than 5 km apart.

For swallows and other species with similar behavioral ecology, the separation distance pertains to communal roost sites rather than to foraging areas; the former tend to be more stable and specific over time than the latter.

Date: 03Sep2004
Author: Hammerson, G.

Use Class: Nonmigratory
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: Occurrences are based on evidence of historical presence, or current and likely recurring presence, at a particular location. Such evidence minimally includes collection or reliable observation and documentation of one or more individuals in or near appropriate habitat.

These occurrence specifications are used for nonmigratory populations of passerine birds.

Separation Barriers: None.
Separation Distance for Unsuitable Habitat: 5 km
Separation Distance for Suitable Habitat: 5 km
Separation Justification: Significant dispersal and associated high potential for gene flow among populations of birds separated by tens of kilometers (e.g., Moore and Dolbeer 1989), and increasing evidence that individuals leave their usual home range to engage in extrapair copulations, as well as long foraging excursions of some species, make it difficult to circumscribe occurrences on the basis of meaningful population units without occurrences becoming too large. Hence, a moderate, standardized separation distance has been adopted for songbirds and flycatchers; it should yield occurrences that are not too spatially expansive while also accounting for the likelihood of gene flow among populations within a few kilometers of each other.

Be careful not to separate a population's nesting areas and breeding-season foraging areas as different occurrences; include them in the same occurrence even if they are more than 5 km apart. Blue jays have small summer home ranges but fly up to 4 kilometers to harvest mast (Tarvin and Woolfenden 1999). Flocks of pinyon jays range over 21-29 square kilometers (Ligon 1971, Balda and Bateman 1971); nesting and foraging areas may be widely separated. Tricolored blackbirds forage in flocks that range widely to more than 15 kilometers from the nesting colony (Beedy and Hamilton 1999).

Unsuitable habitat: Habitat not normally used for breeding/feeding by a particular species. For example, unsuitable habitat for grassland and shrubland birds includes forest/woodland, urban/suburban, and aquatic habitats. Most habitats would be suitable for birds with versatile foraging habits (e.g., most corvids).

Date: 10Sep2004
Author: Hammerson, G.
Notes: These specs pertain to nonmigratory species.
Population/Occurrence Viability
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U.S. Invasive Species Impact Rank (I-Rank) Not yet assessed
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Authors/Contributors
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NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 06Aug2015
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author: Hammerson, G., and Florida Natural Areas Inventory
Management Information Edition Date: 28Sep1992
Management Information Edition Author: SOULE, J.; REVISIONS BY G. HAMMERSON AND D.W. MEHLMAN
Management Information Acknowledgments: Thanks to all the Heritage biologists who responded to the ESA questionnaire. Alabama - Mark Bailey; Arkansas - Cindy Osborne; Arizona - Susan Sferra; Delaware - Dave Rothstein; Georgia - Jonathon Ambrose; Illinois - Vern Kleen; Kansas - Bill Busby; Kentucky - Brainard Palmer-Ball, Jr.; Louisiana - Richard Martin; Maryland - Gene Cooley; Missouri - Leslie Burger; Mississippi - Tom Mann; North Carolina - Harry LeGrand; Nebraska - Mary Clausen; New Mexico - Pat Mehlhop and Tina Carlson; New York - Paul Novak; Oklahoma - Mark Lomolino; Pennsylvania - Tony Wilkinson; South Carolina - J. E. Cely; Tennessee - Paul Hamel; TVA - Chuck Nicholson; Texas - Andy Price; Virginia - Steve Roble; West Virginia - Barbara Sargent. Jim Cox of Florida Freshwater Fish and Game Commission and Mike Spanel of the Shawnee National Forest also kindly provided me with information on this species. Thanks also to Bruce Peterjohn, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Migratory Bird Management, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, for BBS data and interpretation guidance, and to all the volunteers who help generate that data year after year. Gary Graves, of the Smithsonian Institution, provided his insights and observations from his wide experience with this species in the field. John Cely, South Carolina Wildlife and Marine Resources Department, Paul Hamel, Tennessee Department of Conservation, and Brian Thomas, University of Missouri, Columbia, Missouri, reviewed an earlier draft and provided many useful suggestions, clarification, and new information.
Element Ecology & Life History Edition Date: 19Nov1993
Element Ecology & Life History Author(s): HAMMERSON, G. WITH REVISIONS BY D.W. MEHLMAN AND S. CANNINGS

Zoological data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs) and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).

References
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  • Willson, M. F. 1966. Breeding ecology of the Yellow-headed Blackbird. Ecological Monographs 36:51-77.

Use Guidelines & Citation

Use Guidelines and Citation

The Small Print: Trademark, Copyright, Citation Guidelines, Restrictions on Use, and Information Disclaimer.

Note: All species and ecological community data presented in NatureServe Explorer at http://explorer.natureserve.org were updated to be current with NatureServe's central databases as of March 2018.
Note: This report was printed on

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Citation for data on website including State Distribution, Watershed, and Reptile Range maps:
NatureServe. 2018. NatureServe Explorer: An online encyclopedia of life [web application]. Version 7.1. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia. Available http://explorer.natureserve.org. (Accessed:

Citation for Bird Range Maps of North America:
Ridgely, R.S., T.F. Allnutt, T. Brooks, D.K. McNicol, D.W. Mehlman, B.E. Young, and J.R. Zook. 2003. Digital Distribution Maps of the Birds of the Western Hemisphere, version 1.0. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia, USA.

Acknowledgement Statement for Bird Range Maps of North America:
"Data provided by NatureServe in collaboration with Robert Ridgely, James Zook, The Nature Conservancy - Migratory Bird Program, Conservation International - CABS, World Wildlife Fund - US, and Environment Canada - WILDSPACE."

Citation for Mammal Range Maps of North America:
Patterson, B.D., G. Ceballos, W. Sechrest, M.F. Tognelli, T. Brooks, L. Luna, P. Ortega, I. Salazar, and B.E. Young. 2003. Digital Distribution Maps of the Mammals of the Western Hemisphere, version 1.0. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia, USA.

Acknowledgement Statement for Mammal Range Maps of North America:
"Data provided by NatureServe in collaboration with Bruce Patterson, Wes Sechrest, Marcelo Tognelli, Gerardo Ceballos, The Nature Conservancy-Migratory Bird Program, Conservation International-CABS, World Wildlife Fund-US, and Environment Canada-WILDSPACE."

Citation for Amphibian Range Maps of the Western Hemisphere:
IUCN, Conservation International, and NatureServe. 2004. Global Amphibian Assessment. IUCN, Conservation International, and NatureServe, Washington, DC and Arlington, Virginia, USA.

Acknowledgement Statement for Amphibian Range Maps of the Western Hemisphere:
"Data developed as part of the Global Amphibian Assessment and provided by IUCN-World Conservation Union, Conservation International and NatureServe."

NOTE: Full metadata for the Bird Range Maps of North America is available at:
http://www.natureserve.org/library/birdDistributionmapsmetadatav1.pdf.

Full metadata for the Mammal Range Maps of North America is available at:
http://www.natureserve.org/library/mammalsDistributionmetadatav1.pdf.

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