Cerulean Warbler

Photo of a Cerulean Warbler male in a red bud tree.One of my favorite birds is the Cerulean Warbler. A bit of sky come to life and flitting about in the tree tops. This is one of those warbler species that people lament because they are always in the upper canopy of the trees. Many a sore neck has been borne trying to get a good look and this guy. However, all of the effort is well worth the reward. The male Cerulean Warbler is decked out in an amazing shade of blue that has to be seen to be appreciated. His white under parts are decorated with a blue necklace that really makes the whole package amazing to see.

Songs are delivered from the canopy as well, keeping the singer well hidden from view. I am fortunate to have a stable breeding population of Cerulean Warblers within 30 minutes of my home in Berkeley Co., West Virginia. As is true over much the birds distribution, the habitat where the Cerulean Warblers breed has plentiful grape vines growing to the canopy creating wonderful places for hiding a nest. This association with grape vine seems to be important for Cerulean Warblers.

On Friday morning, June 4, 2010, I was waiting for a particular male to awake and begin singing for the day. Sunrise came and went and this male was still quiet. Finally, at 6:20AM he uttered his first notes for the day. Here is the song of this late riser recorded in the Sleepy Creek Wildlife Management Area in Berkeley Co., West Virginia.

Cerulean Warbler male singing early in the morning. Sleepy Creek Wildlife Management Area, Berkeley Co., West Virginia. June 4, 2010. © Wil Hershberger.

The song of the Cerulean Warbler is fairly uniform over their range—a buzzy series of notes that accelerate and go up in pitch as he sings, pre, pre, pre, pretty-wee. Early in the morning these songs are delivered more rapidly than they are the rest of the day, but biologists have not described a definitive “dawn song” for the species. In our experience, however, Cerulean Warblers do sing a special song early in the breeding season on some mornings. This song contains more syllables and has a richer sound than other song types for this species. Bob McGuire captured a beautiful example of this early season “dawn song” at Howland Island Wildlife Management Area in upstate New York. Listen for the bright sound and extra syllables that this male sings.

Cerulean Warbler male early season dawn song. Howland Island Wildlife Management Area near Syracuse, New York. May 21, 2008 at 5:40 AM © Bob McGuire.

In eastern Jefferson County, West Virginia, there is a small population of Cerulean Warblers that have an interesting twist on the Cerulean song. There are several individuals within the small breeding group that have a cadence to their songs that is reminiscent of a Black-throated Green Warbler’s trees, trees, murmuring trees song pattern. Here is a recording of this song type from a male Cerulean Warbler that I recorded on June 6, 1997 at the Shanondale Springs Wildlife Management Area.

Cerulean Warbler male singing an unusual song early in the morning. SSWMA, Jefferson Co., WV. June 6, 1997. ©Wil Hershberger.

Unfortunately, the Cerulean Warbler is a threatened species. Within the center of its breeding range the populations appear to be fairly stable at this time. However, around the perimeter of its range, many areas where Cerulean warblers were common breeders, have none remaining. Habitat loss and fragmentation appear to be responsible for the decline. Within the heart of their breeding range, the mountains in south-western WV, south-eastern Ohio and north-eastern Kentucky, the forested habitat that supports Cerulean Warblers, and so many others, is being destroyed by mountain top removal for the mining of coal. We can only hope that more enlightened minds will prevail in the decision making regarding the fate of this region in the years to come.

Photo of a Cerulean Warbler male in a red bud tree.


  1. I think it’s sad that the Cerulean Warbler is declining. The IUCN Red List ranks this species as vulnerable, which is one step away from endangered. I hope they don’t go extinct one day, or become extremely rare and ranked as critically endangered, which is one step away from extinct.

    By the way, the recordings are wonderful. I agree that the “unusual West Virginia Cerulean Warblers” have quite a different song.

  2. I am making a large hanging sculpture for Wheeling Jesuit University and the cerulean warbler is the focus of the imagery. Since my favorite poem starts “May my heart always be open to the song of little birds. . .” (e.e. cummings) finding your site and listening to the warbler has just made my day. Thanks to you.

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