Sunday, August 20, 2006

Bachman's Warbler in Cuba?

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has posted a video on its website of a possible female Bachman's Warbler that was found in Cuba in January 2002. The video was shot by Manfred Sievert, and the identification was made with field guides afterwards. After reviewing the video, Cornell's ornithologists decided that the evidence was inclusive but intriguing enough to post on their website. They are asking for comments from observers with experience in Cuba. Go take a look for yourself. (Be warned, though, that the video files take time to download.)

Since I do not know Cuban birds at all, it is hard for me to say whether this is really a Bachman's Warbler. The quality of the video makes some field marks, such as the decurved bill, difficult to make out. However, I do not see anything that would contradict that claim. Overall, wings and tail are solid gray, the head and back are olive, and the breast and belly are yellow. There appears to be a darker area around the base of the neck, which is one Bachman's field mark. There also may be a lighter area around the front of the forehead, though this may be a video artifact. The overall drabness of this bird means that it could be other species as well. Without a clearer look at the bird I would not try to call the species myself.

Bachman's Warblers were once common through the Southeast United States but gradually diminished due to habitat destruction. They nested in dense bamboo canebrakes in bottomland swamps, many of which were destroyed through the clear-cutting of forests and draining of swamps. According to Warblers of the Americas: An Identification Guide, the last report of a Bachman's Warbler in the U.S. was in 1988 in Louisiana; Dunn and Garrett's Warblers cites 1962 as the last confirmed sighting. Because of the lack of sightings, this species has been considered extinct.

For more on the status of this species, see BirdLife and the USFWS. For images of the species, see the paintings by Audubon (pictured above) and Louis Agassiz Fuentes, and this stock photo of a museum specimen.

A Bachman's Warbler was featured in Doonesbury in 1986 when the birdwatcher Dick Davenport died after finally seeing one.

(Hat tip to BINAC.)