Friday, May 29, 2009

Which wood-warbler species are members of the “Watch List?"

(As a Watch List member, Hermit Warbler (above photo) populations are stressed by ongoing habitat loss in both their breeding and non-breeding range.)

Thanks for the question, Kerry W. from Polesville, PN.


Coordinated by the Audubon Society and the America Bird Conservancy, the Watch List aims to rally conservationists around America's most imperiled birds. In so doing, the Watch List employs the latest available research from the bird conservation community along with citizen science data from the Christmas Bird Count and the annual Breeding Bird Survey to identify species in the continental U.S. and Hawaii that are in need of immediate conservation help. It is a call to action to save species fighting for survival amid a convergence of environmental challenges, including habitat loss, invasive species and global warming.

The current wood-warbler family members on the Watch List:

Bachman's Warbler
Blue-winged Warbler
Golden-winged Warbler
Virginia's Warbler
Colima Warbler
Lucy's Warbler
Golden-cheeked Warbler
Hermit Warbler
Grace's Warbler
Kirtland's Warbler
Prairie Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Cerulean Warbler
Prothonotary Warbler
Worm-eating Warbler
Swainson's Warbler
Kentucky Warbler
Canada Warbler
Red-faced Warbler

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

What “strange” common names were previously designated for some of our wood-warblers?

(The above Black-Throated Blue female's vastly different appearance in comparison to a definitive male of the species is suggested to be the reason John James Audubon named it a different common name, the Pine Swamp Warbler.)

Common Yellowthroat was once often referred to as Maryland Yellowthroat. John James Audubon mistakenly named two Yellow Warblers as Children’s Warbler. In another instance, Audubon misnamed two juvenile Yellow Warblers as Rathbone’s Warbler.

Audubon was not alone in his naming confusion. Beyond Audubon, naturalist/painter Alexander Wilson also made his share of identification mistakes. Both of these luminaries – as well as other contemporary birding experts in bygone eras – are to be excused because during their tenures little was known about the relationship between plumage changes and corresponding definitive field characteristics.

Audubon’s failed nomenclature decisions periodically continued to surface as he gathered specimens for his paintings. Originally calling a bird specimen he collected in Pennsylvania the Pine Swamp Warbler, he later realized his subject was truly a Black-Throated Blue Warbler.

Later, Audubon was misled by Wilson’s naming procedure into thinking a Blackburnian Warbler was worthy of being designated a new species, the Hemlock Warbler. Audubon, in fact, was never able to correct this misnaming mistake. Another misplay hearkens to May 1812, when Audubon caught a wood-warbler specimen that he named Vigor’s Warbler in honor of Nicholas Vigor, an English naturalist. More correctly, Audubon’s find was an immature Pine Warbler. His confusion was probably the result of the collected individual being in vastly different habitat than its usual pine/needle tree haunts.

Even the Canada Warbler was originally misnamed by Audubon. When he first drew the bird as it perched on the fruiting branch of a magnolia, Audubon suggested it be named the Cypress Swamp Flycatcher. Later he changed his mind, renaming the bird as Bonaparte’s Flycatcher only to again change its designation to Bonaparte’s Flycatching Warbler.

Eventually, it was confirmed that Audubon’s specimen was instead a young female Canada Warbler. Eight years later, Audubon painted the same species and mistakenly called it a Canada Flycatcher.