Posted by: Dan | May 15, 2006

Bird Notes: Two Ceruleans?

In last week’s Notes, I mentioned a rumor that a Cerulean Warbler had been seen in a prospective breeding area in Ithaca recently, so Tuesday morning, I went looking for it. I was hopeful, and excited at the prospect of seeing this warbler because of it’s critically threatened status on Audubon’s watchlist – once one of the most abundant breeding warblers in the Mississippi and Ohio river valleys, it’s population has plummeted due to habitat loss and forest fragmentation in both summer and winter ranges.

There were two problems making it difficult to find and identify the Cerulean: (1) I wasn’t familiar with its voice, only having heard a couple of recordings in times past and the Peterson’s Field Guide description; and (2) I was aware of this warbler’s tendancy to be “A small bird of the deciduous forest treetops, the sky-blue Cerulean Warbler is hard to see. It nests and forages higher in the canopy than most other warblers.” Two strikes against me.

So I stopped off at the jetty woods Tuesday (5/9) around 7:30am to look for this warbler, wandering back and forth along this trail for about 45min, finding Redstarts, Yellow Warblers, Cedar Waxwings, etc., but no Ceruleans. By 8:15 I was about ready to give up and go to work, but thought I heard an Eastern Towhee’s “Drink your tea” – Investigating, I walked down the narrow footpath off of the larger utility path, and heard it again above me. Looking up, it was no Towhee! I’d been listening for a much higher pitch “zee zee zee zree” than this male Cerulean was singing, but re-listening to the recordings now, it’s a perfect match.

I got a great look at the guy as he sung and foraged a dozen feet above me.

But time was getting on, and I started back towards my car at a good walking pace, only to hear it again above me by the concrete shed at the path’s entrance, making it seem that either the male chose to fly from the first tree that it was foraging on directly to another ~40-50yds away just at the right time, or there were two of them. Of course I can’t be sure.

However, as a fellow Ithaca birder noted to me later in the day, this warbler is particularly

very active, vocal, and mobile. It could easily have moved that distance in that time. What with it being high then low, here then there, and engaging in chases with a Gnatcatcher (at least!), you’re not the first to wonder if there’s more than one male Cerulean there. I’m not saying there isn’t two or there won’t be two, only that what I’ve seen while following one bird could account for what you saw.

So I don’t know that I saw two Ceruleans, but it sure gave me the impression that I did – and I’m not the first, nor the last, person in recent weeks to get the feeling that there are two.

For more on Cerulean conservation, check out the Cerulean Warbler Atlas Project.

Other pleasantries for the week:

At home: Eastern Phoebe’s have rebuilt last year’s next under the carport, and Red-eyed Vireos have returned to the woods surrounding the house, foraging right above the kitchen window and adding the avian chorus.

Other neat observations: Visiting family down in the Green Lane Reservoir area of Eastern Pennsylvania again, I spent Sunday (5/14) morning birding with Dad, and saw many notables: Eastern Kingbirds, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Scarlet Tanagers, Warbling Vireos, a Hooded Warbler, a foraging Pileated Woodpecker, Baltimore Orioles, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Yellow-rumped Warbles and American Redstarts; and heard only: Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Yellow-throated Vireo, Pine Warbler, Prairie Warblers, Louisiana Waterthrush, Kentucky Warbler, and Canada Warbler.

Oh, and the winners on cuteness and not-so-cuteness: a pair of Bluebird parents feeding their brood of 4 fledglings; along with having to expose a nest of helpless House Sparrow hatchlings to the elements (sadly, they’re invasives, who agressively out-compete indigenous birds like Bluebirds and Tree Swallows).

Other mentions:

A belated happy Endangered Species day (Thursday, 5/11) and International Migratory Bird Day (Saturday, 5/13), as well as Mother’s Day.

And local author (Songbird Journeys: Four Seasons in the Lives of Migratory Birds) and editor of Birdscope, Miyoko Chu, appeared on NPR on Friday’s All Things Considered. She talks to Robert Siegel about the many mysteries of bird migration, the life span of songbirds and why you might see a huge concentration of birds in Central Park.


How could I forget to also mention that Team Sapsucker won the World Series of Birding this weekend, with 229 birds identified in 24hours. Go team!


  1. Beautiful bird. I would love to see one, although it would be very lost if it ended up in my neighborhood – Idaho.


%d bloggers like this: