WatchList Species Account for Bachman’s Warbler
(Vermivora bachmanii)

Qualifies for the list as a Red List Species

 

Bachman's Warbler
Photo: Jerry A. Payne, USDA
Agricultural Research Service

The Bachman’s Warbler, now probably extinct, was a habitat specialist which bred in shrubby edges and canebrakes in clearings within bottomland forests in the southeastern U.S.; it wintered in Cuba in a range of habitats from dry, semideciduous forests to wooded swamps. Although never abundant, this bird was a common and regular breeding species in southern bottomland hardwood forest communities prior to the 20th century.

 

The Bachman’s Warbler bred in forests had pools of still water; main tree components were cypress, tupelo, sweet gum and black gum, hickory, red oak, and dogwood. The clearings with canebreaks it used for breeding probably resulted from storms and fires and were ephemeral.

 

Encountered in fair numbers in the late 19th century, the species underwent a rapid decline with the clear-cutting of bottomland forest, and only a few were encountered after 1930. At around the same time there were several severe hurricanes both in Cuba and on the mainland, and these may have killed enough of the remaining birds that finding a mate on the breeding grounds became difficult and unlikely.

 

There have been a few unconfirmed sightings since 1970, but the last undisputed sighting was near the I’On Swamp near Charleston, S.C., in 1962. An extensive and systematic search for the bird was conducted in South Carolina, Missouri, and Arkansas from 1975 to 1979, involving 7,000 party hours of 2-person teams and use of song playbacks, but no birds were located.

 

Though habitat destruction on its breeding grounds through clear-cutting and draining of swamps for agriculture is generally accepted as the cause for Bachman’s Warbler's disappearance, it is uncertain whether or not habitat alteration on its Cuban wintering grounds was also a factor in its decline and probable extinction.