BIRD OF THE WEEK: May 18, 2018 SCIENTIFIC NAME: Setophaga occidentalis
POPULATION: 2.6 million
HABITAT: Breeds in western conifer forests; winters in Mexican and Central American highlands in pine-oak forests
The Hermit Warbler's species name, occidentalis, means "of the west," and is indicative of the bird's breeding habitat in the coniferous forests of Washington, Oregon, and California. This bright little warbler can be tricky to spot; like the Cerulean Warbler, it spends most of its time high in the canopy. This seeming elusiveness led to the moniker of "hermit," even though the bird is not particularly shy and may even join mixed-species flocks during migration.
Although still considered fairly common, the Hermit Warbler is vulnerable to habitat loss due to the destruction of northwestern forests throughout its breeding range. Populations of many other bird species in this region have declined precipitously, including Northern Spotted Owl, Marbled Murrelet, and Varied Thrush.
Although their populations are thought to be stable, Hermit Warblers have a limited distribution. Exacerbating this constraint is the species' tendency to hybridize with its close relative, Townsend's Warbler, where their habitats overlap. As Townsend's Warbler is the more aggressive of the two, it is slowly displacing the Hermit Warbler throughout its range.
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Like most other neotropical migrants, including Prairie Warbler and Blackpoll Warbler, Hermit Warblers are insectivorous, dining on caterpillars, beetles, and spiders. It forages in the forest canopy, gleaning insects from twigs and flying out to snatch prey in midair.
Males tend to feed higher in the canopy than females, a habit also observed in the southwestern Red-faced Warbler. Hermit Warblers may even hang upside-down as they probe for prey, resembling extra-bright chickadees.
ABC continues to advocate for old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest that provide breeding habitat for the Hermit Warbler and other declining bird species. We spoke out against a plan to shrink national monuments, including the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, which protects Hermit Warbler breeding grounds.
ABC's BirdScapes approach to conservation protects important habitat for neotropical migrants such as Hermit Warbler, which winters in several ABC project sites in Mexico. At the El Carricito protected area, established in 1998 with partner Bosque Antiguo, Hermit Warblers share upland pine-oak forests with Thick-billed Parrot and Military Macaw, in addition to other neotropical migrants such as Western Tanager and Rufous Hummingbird.
A conservation project currently being developed in Mexico's Sierra de Atoyac to protect Short-crested Coquette, a critically endangered hummingbird and Alliance for Zero Extinction-listed species, will also help conserve winter habitat for the Hermit Warbler.
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