Protecting the rare cerulean warbler

Published 11:52am Monday, May 9, 2011

A small, pale blue and white songbird sings its buzzy song from high within the dense canopy of a tall oak tree.

All you can see is a small shape flitting between the leaves while the loud persistent song continues. This is what one normally sees of the threatened cerulean warbler.

From their wintering grounds in the Andes of Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, these hardy little birds make a journey north every spring to breed in the Ohio River Valley and in a few locations here in Western North Carolina.

Asheville is the only city in North Carolina with cerulean warblers in its backyard and from 12 to 24 male cerulean warblers hold territories on the Blue Ridge Parkway each year from Craven Gap as far as Lane Pinnacle Overlook.

The local chapter of the National Audubon Society here in WNC is the Elisha Mitchell Audubon Society and we have adopted the Bull Creek Important Bird Area where volunteers have monitored our small population of cerulean warblers since 1998. Birders from all over the southeast come to Asheville to see and hear this beautiful blue songbird, whose overall numbers are decreasing precipitously.

Cerulean warblers spend the winter on the eastern slope of the Andes in South America. Here they inhabit remnants of native forest and shade-grown coffee plantations, where they join other Neotropical and local songbirds foraging for insects in the tall trees that shade the coffee plants.

ProAves, a Colombian non-profit organization “dedicated to the conservation of birds and their habitats through research, outreach and direct conservation actions in collaboration with local communities,” has established a reserve especially to protect the declining cerulean warbler. The “Cerulean Warbler Reserve” was established in 2005 and since that date the reserve has grown ten-fold.

More funding has allowed more land to be purchased for the reserve and a small lodge has been built for eco-tourists. Folks from the local community are being trained as guides and as researchers, and local communities are being educated about the importance of birds in the local economy.

So how do we help the cerulean warbler both here in North Carolina and down on its wintering grounds in South America?

To start with, I will give a presentation on May 17 at 7 p.m. at the Reuter Center on the campus of UNCA here in Asheville. I will discuss the cerulean warbler here in North Carolina and the Cerulean Warbler Reserve in San Vicente, Colombia.

A small fee will be charged for this program as part of our annual Birdathon fundraising attempt.

More information on this program is on our local Audubon Society’s website or call us at the Asheville Wild Birds Unlimited store on 828-687-9433.

I hope to see you there.

Simon Thompson has lived in WNC for the past 16 years. He owns and operates his own birding tour company, Ventures Birding Tours.

He and Chris also own and operate the Asheville Wild Birds Unlimited Store.

For more information on any of the birding activities in the area, drop by the store or check his website at

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