Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve, BC (Photo by Tim Ennis/NCC)

Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve, BC (Photo by Tim Ennis/NCC)

Cerulean warbler (Photo by Bill Hubick)

Cerulean warbler (Photo by Bill Hubick)

Cerulean warbler

The cerulean warbler is an evasive bird, often heard but rarely seen because it lives in the tops of the tallest trees, flitting from branch to branch as it forages for food. But each time Dr. Henry Barnett visits the Happy Valley Forest (HVF) and hears this species' distinctive buzzing call, he recalls the day he caught a glimpse of its white belly and black necklace.

"He and his friend were lying on their backs and scouring the canopy till they finally saw the male. I think the canopy was not quite leafed out, so they were lucky," says Dr. Barnett's daughter, Ann Love, who has heard the story many times on hikes through the HVF with her father. While she has seen cerulean warblers as they congregate for summer migration, she's never been fortunate enough to spot one in its treetop nest.

What is the conservation status of this species?

Cerulean warblers are listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List and as endangered in Canada. In the second half of the 20th century, they experienced the largest population decline of any North American wood warbler. This tiny bird nests throughout the northeastern United States but in Canada is only found in Ontario and Quebec. There are estimated to be between 500 and 1,000 breeding pairs in Canada, with the majority in Ontario, primarily in the Frontenac Arch. Each fall, these warblers migrate to their wintering grounds in the forests at the base of the Andes Mountains in South America.

Like many species, the cerulean warbler is threatened due to the loss of suitable habitat through forest fragmentation. Habitat loss in its wintering areas in South America and the loss of migratory stopover sites in Central America are also threats the species therefore benefits from shade-grown coffee plantations as opposed to traditional plantations.

What is NCC doing to protect habitat for this species?

The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is working to protect habitat for cerulean warblers throughout Ontario, including the Frontenac Arch, Southern Norfolk Sand Plain, Skunk's Misery and the Happy Valley Forest, where Dr. Barnett has not only donated land to NCC, but has been a driving force behind convincing other landowners to donate their properties to NCC for conservation purposes.

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