Cerulean Warbler


Common Name:Cerulean Warbler





Setophaga cerulea

Photo: M. Noonan



Cerulean Warbler is a passerine in the family Parulidae. This family contains all of the species of Wood Warblers in the New World. It is in the genus Setophaga – consisting of New World warblers. The Cerulean Warbler is a small member of the parulid family at 11.5 cm and 8-10g. Its name cerulean depicts this warbler’s rich blue color. The Cerulean Warbler has long pointed wings with a short tail. The adult male is a bold cerulean blue, white below, with a very narrow blue-black band under the throat and streaked back. The female is a bluish-green, whitish-yellow underparts, and a white to yellow eye stripe. Both genders share two white wing bars and white tail spots.

Photo: M. Noonan


The Cerulean Warbler has patchy distribution throughout northeast U.S. It breads as far west as central Arkansas, Missouri, and Iowa, north into southern Ontario, throughout New York – except for in the Adirondack area, and as to the south in West Virginia and North Carolina. In this range, the Cerulean Warbler may be found in predominately forested areas – mainly in mature forests of large and tall trees of broad-leaved, deciduous trees with open understory. It has been found that this warbler prefers areas where there are distinct horizontal zones of forest layers, as well as periodic gaps, or openings, in the canopy. The Cerulean Warbler is mostly insectivorous and forages in the foliage, however, it also eats some plant material, especially small fat masses that are attached to fruits of some tropical trees.

The Cerulean Warbler typically hops between branches in the canopy laterally or slightly upward, rather than walking or climbing. Breeding cerulean warblers can be aggressive. Both males and females can be seen in same sex fights where an attack is made mid-air at canopy levels. Females have been spotted fighting with females of other species over nesting material, typically spider webs. I



In this species, males usually arrive at least one week before the female to the breeding grounds, and pair formation occurs very quickly after females arrive. The nest is built only by the female and 3-4 eggs to be laid in this nest. The female displays a nest defense sometimes referred to as “bungee-dropping.” This is when the female leaves the nests by dropping vertically from the side of the nest with the wings closed for a few meters, resembling a falling leaf with her greenish hue; only after she is a distance from her nest will she open her wings. This is done to supposedly distract predators away from the location of the nest. Incubation last for about 12-13 days.




The Cerulean Warbler has been increasing in number in many New York areas. One area to go to where this bird has been routinely spotted during the summer is on the Swallow Hollow nature trail at Iroquois NWR and also across the road from this trail in Oak Orchard WMA. Other places where there is a chance to see this bird, is Allegany State Park as well as Norway Road near the town of Holley.


Birds of Western New York is brought to you by the Institute for the Study of Human-Animal Relations at Canisius College in Buffalo, NY.