Skip to main content Accessibility help

Recent large-scale colonisation of southern pine plantations by Swainson’s Warbler Limnothlypis swainsonii

  • GARY R. GRAVES (a1)

Swainson’s Warbler Limnothlypis swainsonii is a secretive species of high conservation concern with an estimated global breeding population of 90,000 individuals sparsely distributed across 15 states in the south-eastern United States. Its status as one of the rarest songbirds in North America has been attributed to the scarcity of breeding and wintering habitat. Although the warbler was once thought to be a habitat specialist of lowland canebrakes, it is now known to breed in a wide spectrum of broadleaf forest habitats linked by the common denominator of high stem densities and visual screening in the understorey stratum. Scattered instances of a fundamental habitat expansion into early seral stages of even-aged pine plantations were first observed in east Texas in 1992. Here I report that the colonisation of pine plantations is not only locally extensive in Texas but that it is widespread on the coastal plain eastward to south-eastern Virginia. During two decades of field surveys, breeding territories (n = 297) were documented in young pine plantations in 95 counties and parishes in 10 states. Occupied plantations were mostly 6–12 m tall (median = 7.5 m), corresponding to 8–15 years after planting. Soil type and the presence of interspersed broadleaf vegetation may be important co-factors in plantation occupancy. The chronology of this breeding niche expansion is poorly known but it appears to have occurred after the 1970s, most likely catalysed by the rapid growth of pine plantation silviculture after World War II. As late as 2001, it was believed that > 90% of the breeding population occurred in broadleaf floodplain forest. The recent range-wide colonisation of pine plantations changes the calculus. If the current trend continues, forest lands managed for short-rotation pine plantations will support the majority of breeding populations by the end of the 21st century.

Corresponding author
Hide All
Amateis, R. L. and Burkhart, H. E. (1985) Site index curves for loblolly pine plantations on cutover site-prepared lands. South. J. Appl. Forest. 9: 166169.
Anich, N. M., Benson, T. J. and Bednarz, J. C. (2009) Estimating territory and home-range sizes: Do singing locations alone provide an accurate estimate of space use? Auk 126: 626634.
Audubon, J. J. (1834) Ornithological biography. Vol. 2. Edinburgh, UK: Adam and Charles Black.
Bassett-Touchell, C. A. and Stouffer, P. C. (2006) Habitat selection by Swainson's Warblers breeding in loblolly pine plantations in south-eastern Louisiana. J. Wildl. Manage. 70: 11131119.
Battin, J. (2004) When good animals love bad habitats: Ecological traps and the conservation of animal populations. Conserv. Biol. 18: 14821491.
Benson, T. J., Anich, N. M., Brown, J. D. and Bednarz, J. C. (2010) Habitat and landscape effects on brood parasitism, nest survival, and fledgling production in Swainson’s Warblers. J. Wildl. Manage. 74: 8193.
Bishop, J. T., Gerwin, J. A. and Lancia, R. A. (2012) Nesting ecology of Swainson's Warblers in a South Carolina bottomland forest. Wilson J. Ornithol. 124: 728736.
Brewster, W. (1885) Swainson's Warbler. Auk 2: 6580.
Brooks, M. and Legg, W. C. (1942) Swainson's Warbler in Nicholas County, West Virginia. Auk 59: 7686.
Brown, J. D., Benson, T. J. and Bednarz, J. C. (2009) Vegetation characteristics of Swainson's Warbler habitat at the White River National Wildlife Refuge, Arkansas. Wetlands 29: 586597.
Brown, J. D., Benson, T. J. and Bednarz, J. C. (2011) Arthropod communities associated with habitats occupied by breeding Swainson's Warblers. Condor 113: 890898.
Carrie, N. R. (1996) Swainson's Warblers nesting in early seral pine forests in East Texas. Wilson Bull. 108: 802804.
Cooper, J. A. and Bentley, J. W. (2012) East Texas, 2011 forest inventory and analysis factsheet. Asheville, NC: U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Southern Research Station.
Dickson, J. G. and Segelquist, C. A. (1979) Breeding bird populations in pine and pine-hardwood forests in Texas. J. Wildl. Manage. 43: 549555.
Dickson, J. G., Conner, R. N. and Williamson, J. H. (1993) Neotropical migratory bird communities in a developing pine plantation. P. Ann. Conf. Southeast. Ass. Fish Wildlife Agen. 47: 439446.
Dickson, J. G., Williamson, J. H., Conner, R. N. and Ortego, B. (1995) Streamside zones and breeding birds in eastern Texas. Wildlife Soc. Bull. 23: 750755.
Eddleman, W. R., Evans, K. E. and Elder, W. H. (1980) Habitat characteristics and management of Swainson's Warbler in southern Illinois. Wildlife Soc. Bull. 8: 228233.
Fox, T. R., Jokela, E. J. and Allen, H. L. (2007) The development of pine plantation silviculture in the southern United States. J. Forest. 105: 337347.
Graves, G. R. (1992) A case of aggregated nest placement and probable polygyny in the Swainson's Warbler. Wilson Bull. 104: 370373.
Graves, G. R. (1996) Censusing wintering populations of Swainson's Warbler: surveys in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica. Wilson Bull. 108: 94103.
Graves, G. R. (1998) Stereotyped foraging behavior of the Swainson's Warbler. J. Field Ornithol. 69: 121127.
Graves, G. R. (2001) Factors governing the distribution of Swainson's Warbler along a hydrological gradient in Great Dismal Swamp. Auk 118: 650664.
Graves, G. R. (2002) Habitat characteristics in the core breeding range of the Swainson's Warbler. Wilson Bull. 114: 210220.
Graves, G. R., Simpson, M. B. and Stephens, L. D. (1996) Joseph LeConte and the discovery of the nest of Swainson's Warbler (Limnothlypis swainsonii): a reconsideration. Arch. Nat. Hist. 23: 287290.
Hamel, P. B. (1986) Bachman's Warbler, a species in peril. Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.
Hanberry, B. B., Hanberry, P., Riffell, S. K., Demarais, S. and Jones, J. C. (2012) Bird assemblages of intensively established pine plantations in coastal plain Mississippi. J. Wildl. Manage. 76: 12051214.
Hazler, K. R., Amacher, A. J., Lancia, R. A. and Gerwin, J. A. (2006) Factors influencing Acadian Flycatcher nesting success in an intensively managed forest landscape. J. Wildl. Manage. 70: 532538.
Henry, D. R. (2004) Reproductive success and habitat selection of Swainson's warblers in managed pine versus bottomland hardwood forests. Dissertation, Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana.
Hunter, W. C., Pashley, D. N. and Escano, R. E. F. (1993) Neotropical migratory landbird species and their habitats of special concern with the southeast region. Status and management of neotropical migratory birds. Pp. 159171 in U.S. Forest Service General Technical Report RM-229. Fort Collins, Colorado.
Jackson, J. A., Lennartz, M. R. and Hooper, R. G. (1979) Tree age and cavity initiation by Red-cockaded Woodpeckers. J. Forest. 77: 102103.
Legrand, H. G., Chamberlain, M. J. and Moser, E. B. (2007) Diversity and abundance of breeding birds in a managed loblolly pine forest in Louisiana. Am. Midl. Nat. 157: 329344.
Ligon, J. D. (1970) Behavior and breeding biology of the Red-cockaded Woodpecker. Auk 87: 255278.
LMVJV Forest Resource Conservation Group (2007) Restoration, management, and monitoring of forest resources in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley: recommendations for enhancing wildlife habitat. Vickburg, Mississippi: Lower Mississippi Valley Joint Venture.
Loehle, C., Wigley, T. B., Rutzmoser, S., Gerwin, J. A., Keyser, P. D., Lancia, R. A., Reynolds, C. J., Thill, R. E., Weih, R., White, D. and Wood, P. B. (2005) Managed forest landscape structure and avian species richness in the south-eastern US. Forest Ecol. Manage. 214: 279293.
Meanley, B. (1970) Method of searching for food by the Swainson's Warbler. Wilson Bull. 82: 228.
Meanley, B. (1971) Natural history of the Swainson's Warbler. North Am. Fauna 69: 190.
Murray, J. J. (1939) Swainson's Warbler in southwest Virginia. Raven 10 (910): 9.
Natural Resources Conservation Service (2013) Web soil survey. United States Department of Agriculture. Accessed 10 November 2013
Noble, R. E. and Hamilton, R. B. (1975) Bird populations in even-aged loblolly pine forests of south-eastern Louisiana. P. Ann. Conf. Southeast. Ass. Fish Wildlife Agen. 29: 441450.
Partners in Flight Science Committee (2012) Species assessment database, version 2012. (Accessed on 7 July 2014)
Partners in Flight Science Committee (2013) Population estimates database, version 2013. (Accessed on 7 July 2014)
Patuxent Wildlife Research Center (2013) North American Breeding Bird Survey. United States Geological Survey. Accessed 10 November 2013
Peters, K. A., Lancia, R. A. and Gerwin, J. A. (2005) Swainson's Warbler habitat selection in a managed bottomland hardwood forest. J. Wildl. Manage. 69: 409417.
Pulliam, H. R. (1988) Sources, sinks, and population regulation. Am. Nat. 132: 652661.
Repenning, R. W. and Labisky, R. F. (1985) Effects of even-age timber management on bird communities of the longleaf pine forest in northern Florida. J. Wildl. Manage. 49: 10881098.
Rosson, J. F. (2000) Forest resources of east Texas, 1992. Asheville, NC: US. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Southern Research Station.
Sauer, J. R., Hines, J. E., Fallon, J. E., Pardieck, K. L., Ziolkowski, D. J. and Link, W. A. (2012) The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966-2011. Version 07.03.2013. Laurel, MD: USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.
Savage, A. L., Moorman, C. E., Gerwin, J. A. and Sorenson, C. (2010) Prey selection by Swainson's Warblers on the breeding grounds. Condor 112: 605614.
Sharma, M., Amateis, R. L. and Burkhart, H. E. (2002) Top height definition and its effect on site index determination in thinned and unthinned loblolly pine plantations. Forest Ecol. Manage. 168: 168175.
Terborgh, J. (1989) Where have all the birds gone? Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
Thomas, B. G., Wiggers, E. P. and Clawson, R. L. (1996) Habitat selection and breeding status of Swainson's Warbler in southern Missouri. J. Wildl. Manage. 60: 611616.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (2010) Recovery plan for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus principalis). Atlanta, Georgia: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
USDA Forest Service (1988) The south's fourth forest: alternatives for the future. Forest Resource Report No. 24. Washington, DC: United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service.
Wakeley, P. C. (1945) How much forest planting have we to do? Southern Lumberman 171: 163167.
Wakeley, P. C. (1954) Planting the southern pines. Forest Service, U. S. Department of Agriculture. Agriculture monograph No. 18.
Wayne, A. T. (1907) The nest and eggs of Bachman's Warbler, Helminthophila bachmani (Aud.), taken near Charleston, South Carolina. Auk 44: 4348.
Wear, D. N. and Greis, J. G. (2012) The southern forest futures project: summary report. Ashville, North Carolina: USDA Forest Service, Southern Research Station. General Technical Report SRS-168.
Williams, M. (1989) Americans and their forests: A historical geography. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Wilson, M. D. and Watts, B. D. (2000) Breeding bird communities in pine plantations on the coastal plain of North Carolina. Chat 64: 114.
Winker, K. and Graves, G. R. (2008) Genetic structure of breeding and wintering populations of Swainson's Warbler. Wilson Bull. 20: 433445.
Winker, K., Glenn, T. C. and Graves, G. R. (1999) Dinucleotide microsatellite loci in a migratory wood warbler (Parulidae: Limnothlypis swainsonii), and amplification among other songbirds. Mol. Ecol. 8: 15531556.
Winker, K., Graves, G. R. and Braun, M. J. (2000) Genetic differentiation among populations of a migratory songbird: Limnothlypis swainsonii . J. Avian Biol. 31: 319328.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Bird Conservation International
  • ISSN: 0959-2709
  • EISSN: 1474-0001
  • URL: /core/journals/bird-conservation-international
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed