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Bachman's Warbler

Vermivora bachmanii

  • Version: 2.0 — Published August 19, 2011
  • Paul B. Hamel

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The Introduction Article is just the first of 11 articles in each species account that provide life history information for the species. The remaining articles provide detailed information regarding distribution, migration, habitat, diet, sounds, behavior, breeding, current population status and conservation. Each species account also includes a multimedia section that displays the latest photos, audio selections and videos from Macaulay Library’s extensive galleries. Written and continually updated by acknowledged experts on each species, Birds of North America accounts include a comprehensive bibliography of published research on the species.

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Figure 1. Probable historical distribution of Bachman's Warbler.

Probable historical distribution of Bachman’s Warbler, at its maximum extent (late 1800s). Text discusses range contraction since then.

Adult male Bachman's Warbler, Charleston, SC, May 1958.

This photo was taken roughly four years before the last confirmed sightings of this species in the same region in 1962. Reports of this species on migration since the 1970s offer some hope that it may still exist, but most authorities now consider it extinct. It specialized in scrubby habitats in bottomland forests throughout the Southeast, and disappeared most likely due to habitat loss, both on its breeding grounds in the United States, and its winter grounds in Cuba. Adult males have a black bib with a yellow chin and forehead, unique among warblers. All show a distinctly thin, decurved bill.; photographer Various

Bachman's Warbler—a frustrating, exhilarating, and continuously pursued North American bird—has been the subject of cartoons, threatened litigation, and international cooperation, but of no detailed field study. Nearly, or perhaps already, extinct, this species has been written off before, only to reappear. Despite intense collection, a continuing curiosity in and search for the species by ornithologists and birdwatchers, and a keen interest in its conservation from the time of its initial discovery in 1832 to the present day, few hard data exist to describe this elusive species. Mystery and confusion about the bird consequently abound, even relating to the pronunciation of its name. The bird was named after Audubon's friend John Bachman, a Lutheran minister from Charleston, South Carolina, who pronounced his name "BACKman" (Buhrman 1977).

Today Bachman's Warbler is almost a holy grail to many ornithologists and birdwatchers. The most recent specimen was collected in 1949 in Mississippi (Sciple 1950), and the last probable breeding pair was seen in South Carolina that same year (Sprunt 1970). The last confirmed sightings were all near Charleston, South Carolina in 1958–1961 (Sprunt 1970); see above photograph of singing male, taken May 15, 1958 by J. H. Dick. Scattered sightings in the southeastern United States and Cuba extend into the 1980s; see Hamel (Hamel 1986) for discussions of these reports.

This early migrating, foliage-gleaning insectivore nests in shrubs in bottomland hardwood forests with a dense shrub layer, probably in the vicinity of openings or internal edges. Putative association with canebrakes and winter restriction to a single Caribbean island (Cuba), exposed the species to habitat destruction directly through land clearing and indirectly through hurricanes and increased predation and parasitism accompanying fragmentation of forests. As will be obvious in the following account, a great deal is unknown about the biology of Bachman's Warbler.

Recommended Citation

Hamel, P. B. (2011). Bachman's Warbler (Vermivora bachmanii), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.