Illinois Natural History Survey - University of Illinois

Swainson's warbler
Limnothlypis swainsonii

 

 

Image by DNR

Taxonomy
Occurence in Illinois
Status
Habitat associations
Guilds
Food-habits
Environmental associations
Life history
Management practices
References


TAXONOMY

 

  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Passeriformes
  • Family: Emberizidae
  • Genus: Limnothlypis
  • Species: Limnothlypis swainsonii
  • Authority: Audubon

Comments on taxonomy:
Original description Sylvia swainsonii Audubon, Birds Amer. (folio), vol. 2, 1834, pl. 198 (Orn. Biogr., vol. 2, 1834, p. 563). type locality Edisto River, near Charleston, SC *03*.

 


OCCURENCE IN ILLINOIS

Occasional migrant and local summer resident in south. Very rare vagrant in north and central Illinois *01,02*.

 


STATUS

Items in bold indicate applicable categories
Forest Service Categories: S = recommended for regional sensitive status, F = forest listed species, M = management indicator species

Federal Status:

Endangered Threatened Proposed for listing
Candidate for proposal Recovery plan approved Recovery plan received (USFWS)
Recovery plan in preparation Under notice of review Delisted
Migratory EPA indicator Forest Serv.- Shawnee species (S)

State Status:

Endangered Threatened Proposed

Other:

Game Furbearer Nongame protected
Sportfish Commercial Pest None of the above

Comments on status:
Apparently always been rare in Illinois; limited habitat and peripheral breeding status may result in potential endangerment *02*. As a migratory bird, Swainson's warbler is protected by USFWS under Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 as amended in 1960 *15*, and the Illinois Wildlife Code, 1971 *30*.

 


HABITAT ASSOCIATIONS

Items in bold indicate applicable categories

General habitat:

Unknown Terrestrial Aquatic Riparian

USFS timber inventory forest size class:

Unknown Unstocked Seedling Sapling
Seedling/sapling Pole Mature Over mature

Land use and land cover:

Unknown   Urban Residential
Commercial
Industrial
Transportation, communication
Complex industrial/commercial
Mixed
Other
Agricultural Crop, pasture
Orchards, groves, nurseries
Feedlot
Other
Rangeland Herbaceous
Shrub and brush
Mixed
Forestland Deciduous
Evergreen

Mixed
Water Stream
Lake
Reservoir
Bay
Wetland Forest
Non-forest
Barren Salt flat
Beach
Sand
Rock
Mine
Transit
Mix

 


Forest cover types:

Cover typeStructural stageCanopy closureSeason
Oak-gum-cypress All 71-100% Fall
Oak-gum-cypress All 71-100% Spring/summer
Elm-ash-cottonwood All 71-100% Fall
Elm-ash-cottonwood All 71-100% Spring/summer

Associated tree species:

  • Boxelder
  • American elm
  • Slippery elm
  • Sweetgum
  • Silver maple
  • Sycamore

Comments on species-habitat associations:
Principal overstory trees in swainson's warbler habitat in Illinois were boxelder, silver maple, sycamore, sweetgum, American elm, and slippery elm (i.e. typical floodplain species) with areas of thick understory and dense (80% or more) overstory; trees taller than 8 m and canopy coverage of 55% or more seemed necessary, sometimes found in relatively young (25-30 yrs.) forest, associated with old muddy streams *05,06*. Species found in late old fields with dense shrubs and surrounded by mature forest to late-successional-stage forest *06*. Optimum habitat is damp (not wet) woods with deep shade and moderately dense undergrowth *07*. Important plant and animal association: Giant cane and brown-headed cowbird. Swainson's warbler is often associated with giant cane (Arundinaria gigantea) *05,06*. May be rather heavily parasitized by the brown- headed cowbird in some part of its range *07*.

High value habitats

HabitatStructural stageSeason
Wet-mesic floodplain forest Young tree
(1-9" dia.)
Fall
Wet-mesic floodplain forest Young tree
(1-9" dia.)
Spring/summer
Wet-mesic floodplain forest Mature
(9" dia. & 100 yrs. old)
Fall
Wet-mesic floodplain forest Mature
(9" dia. & 100 yrs. old)
Spring/summer

Species-habitat interrelations: Habitat (damp woods with deep shade and dense undergrowth) season (spring/summer) function (breeding/feeding) value (high) *07*. Swainson's warbler prefers deep shade and is usually found in environment with dense upper canopy, layer of lower trees, and a shrub strata usually composed of a single species such as giant cane *07*. It appears that tree species composition has little effect on habitat selection by Swainson's warbler *06*. Large contiguous tracts of forest are preferred *06*.

 


GUILDS

Feed-guilding:

HabitatStructural stageSeasonFeed-guilds
Wet-mesic floodplain forest All Spring/summer Terrestrial surface- arthropods
Shrub strata- arthropods
Wet-mesic floodplain forest All Fall Terrestrial surface- arthropods
Shrub strata- arthropods

Comments on feed-guilding:
Primarily a ground feeder, sometimes foraging on leaves of undergrowth *07*.

Breed-guilding:

HabitatStructural stageSeasonBreed-Guilds
Wet-mesic floodplain forest Shrub-seedling
(trees 1" dia.)
Spring/summer Shrub strata, grass and grasslike vegetation extending into shrub strata
Shrub strata, canopy of broad-leaved deciduous shrubs
Wet-mesic floodplain forest Young tree
(1-9" dia.)
Spring/summer Shrub strata, grass and grasslike vegetation extending into shrub strata
Shrub strata, canopy of broad-leaved deciduous shrubs

Comments on breed-guilding:
Nests have been found in axils of cane stalks and also in small bushes, masses of vines, and briers, 2-10 ft with ave. about 3 ft above ground at edges of canebrakes or thickets *06,07,14*.

 


FOOD-HABITS

Trophic level is CARNIVORE

Food itemLife stage/plant part
Arachnida (spiders, ticks, scorpions, daddy longlegs) Unknown
Insecta Unknown
Orthoptera (grasshoppers, crickets, cockroaches) Unknown
Coleoptera (beetles) Larva
Coleoptera (beetles) Unknown
Lepidoptera (butterflies, moths) Larva
Hymenoptera (ants, wasps, bees) Unknown
Important:
Arachnida (spiders, ticks, scorpions, daddy longlegs) Unknown
Insecta Unknown
Coleoptera (beetles) Unknown
Juvenile:
Insecta Unknown
Adult:
Arachnida (spiders, ticks, scorpions, daddy longlegs) Unknown
Insecta Unknown
Orthoptera (grasshoppers, crickets, cockroaches) Unknown
Coleoptera (beetles) Larva
Coleoptera (beetles) Unknown
Lepidoptera (butterflies, moths) Larva
Hymenoptera (ants, wasps, bees) Unknown

Comments on food habits: 
General: Primarily a ground feeder, sometimes foraging in undergrowth a few feet above ground, searches under leaves *07*. Small beetles and spiders have been suggested as principle food items *12,13*. Also crickets and ants are favored *07*.
Juvenile: Assume juveniles adopt adult food habits upon fledging *00*.
Adult: See [FH] general food habits.


ENVIRONMENTAL ASSOCIATIONS

General:

  • Water level: seasonally flooded
  • Flood plain: see comments
  • Aquatic habitats: swamp, general
  • Aquatic habitats: swamp
  • Old fields: see comments
  • Coniferous forest: see comments
  • Hardwood forest: see comments
  • Canopy closure (%) of trees: see comments
  • Ground cover- shrub (%): see comments
  • Ground cover- herbaceous (%): see comments
  • Ground cover- grass (%): see comments
  • Size of continous forested land: see comments
  • Vegetation successional stage: climax forest
  • Human associations: wildlife refuges/sanctuaries
  • Unknown

Limiting:

  • Water level: seasonally flooded
  • Flood plain: see comments
  • Aquatic habitats: swamp, general
  • Aquatic habitats: swamp
  • Coniferous forest: see comments
  • Hardwood forest: see comments
  • Ground cover- herbaceous (%): see comments
  • Ground cover- grass (%): see comments

Egg

  • Hardwood forest: see comments
  • Unknown

Feeding juvenile:

  • Flood plain: see comments
  • Aquatic habitats: swamp, general
  • Aquatic habitats: swamp

Resting juvenile:

  • Flood plain: see comments
  • Aquatic habitats: swamp, general
  • Aquatic habitats: swamp

Feeding adult:

  • Flood plain: see comments
  • Aquatic habitats: swamp, general
  • Aquatic habitats: swamp
  • Hardwood forest: see comments

Resting adult:

  • Flood plain: see comments
  • Aquatic habitats: swamp, general
  • Aquatic habitats: swamp

Breeding adult:

  • Water level: seasonally flooded
  • Flood plain: see comments
  • Aquatic habitats: swamp, general
  • Aquatic habitats: swamp
  • Coniferous forest: see comments
  • Hardwood forest: see comments
  • Ground cover- shrub (%): see comments
  • Ground cover- herbaceous (%): see comments
  • Ground cover- grass (%): see comments
  • Size of continous forested land: see comments
  • Human associations: wildlife refuges/sanctuaries

Comments on environmental associations:
General: In Illinois, principal trees in typical floodplain habitat were boxelder, silver maple, sycamore, sweetgum, american elm, and slippery elm and overstory of 80% (mean) or more and an understory of giant cane averaging 20,267 stems/ha *05,06*. Optimum habitat is moist, deeply shaded forest with moderately dense undergrowth *07*. The species appears to be associated with muddy streams in Illinois *06*. Inundation of habitat must be seasonal or understory and giant cane will not persist *06*. Large contiguous tracts of forest with suitable understory were preferred by Swainson's warbler in southern Illinois *06*. Smallest tracts occupied were approx. 350 ha.
Feeding juvenile: Nestlings are fed in the nest and upon fledging are assumed to adopt adult feeding habits. See [FA] feeding adult.
Resting juvenile: Nestlings rest in nest. juveniles are known to perch 6-12 in. from the ground in heavy cover *07*.
Feeding adult: Adults feed on ground in undergrowth *07*. The percentage of ground cover was low in dense canebrakes where warbler usually foraged because shading precludes herbaceous plant growth *06*.
Resting adult: No comments.
Breeding adult: Nests are built in understory vegetation in drier portions of floodplain forest *05,07*


LIFE HISTORY

Origin: Native *00*.

Physical description: Length 5-5 1/2 inches, but heavier than most warblers, about 15 grams during breeding season; sexes alike, upper- parts and wings brown, crown reddish brown, underparts yellowish-white and unstreaked, bill large and sharp *07,12*.

Reproduction: Breeding- arrives in Illinois in late April or early May *01,08* but nesting cycle in Illinois is unknown *05*. Bobtailed fledglings have been seen in late June and large fledglings still being fed by adults in early August *08*. Males arrive first preceding females by approx. 10 days *12*. Males then establish territories in the vicinity of those occupied the previous year *07,12*. Males sing from perches varying in height between ground level and 20 ft. details of courtship and pair-bonding are unavailable. Several displays have been observed during 'pre-nesting' phase. See *07*. Copulation is known to occur within a pairs territory and may occur on the ground *07,12*. Meanley (1971) reports that the male chooses the nest site, but Chapman (1962) states it is the female *07,12*. The nest may be located on the edge of a pair's territory or outside the territorial boundary. See *07,12*. The nest is typically located in cane stands, bushes, brambles or a rank thickety growth form, 2-10 ft. Above ground the nest is constructed by female from materials gathered from the immediate vicinity *12*. Nest construction may take 3 days *07*. Meanley found first nests in Virginia in early May. Three (rarely four) eggs are laid on successive days. Eggs are white, rarely spotted; ave. 19.5 x 15.0 mm. *29*. Female incubates, beginning with last egg, approx. 13 days. *07,29*. Both parents feed young. The nestling stage is approx. 12 days. After fledging young may be seen following parents for 2 to 3 weeks begging for food. There are no published records on nesting success or productivity in Illinois *05*.

Behavior: Males establish territories ranging from 0.3 To 4.8 acres, of which size and shape varied during breeding cycle *07*. Males defend territories by song, chases and combat *07*. Swainson's warbler is known to exhibit site tenacity or homing *07,12*. Swainson's warblers arrive in Illinois in late April and leave in September *01*, overwintering in Carribbean Islands and east coast of Mexico and Central America *07*. This species arrives later than other warbler species. Its timing has been associated with leaf emergence because of their preference for shady areas *07*. Swainson's warbler is a ground forager, examining undersides of leaves and ground under them which is an atypical warbler behavior *07*. Males use perhaps half a dozen foraging areas within its territory, these areas are generally less than 50 sq. ft. *07*.

Limiting factors: Habitat may be limiting, i.e. narrow habitat requirements *07* coupled with reduction in cane habitat and floodplain forest in Illinois *05,08*. It has low nesting success (3 out of 16 16 nests *07*) because the nest is poorly concealed, is close to the ground and contains white eggs, resulting in predation by other birds (grackles, bluejays), snakes, and mammals *07*. Cowbirds may parasitize nests *07*.

Population parameters: Unknown *00*.

 


MANAGEMENT PRACTICES

Beneficial:

  • Maintaining undisturbed/undeveloped areas
  • Maintaining natural areas and nature preserves
  • Maintaining unique or special habitat features (wetlands, snags, caves, cliffs, talises, etc.
  • Preserving endangered species habitat
  • Preserving sensitive species habitat
  • Performing special survey prior to prescription
  • Performing field survey prior to prescription
  • Controlling land use and human activities
  • Seasonal restriction of human use of habitats
  • Maintaining streams
  • Grazing management to allow vegetative recovery
  • Developing/maintaining native vegetation
  • Patch clearcutting
  • Selection method of silviculture
  • Selection method of silviculture- group
  • Thinning operations in forest areas
  • Reforestation
  • Reforestation by natural regeneration
  • Reforestation, site preparation- prescribed burning
  • Forest protection
  • Forest protection- forest fire suppression (e.g. prescribed burns, clearing slash)
  • Developing/maintaining forest openings
  • Maintaining forests
  • Changing vegetation to improve wildlife habitat

Adverse:

  • Recreational development
  • Creating impoundments
  • Uncontrolled grazing by domestic livestock
  • Strip mining
  • Mowing
  • Cutting and deforestation
  • Reforestation, site preparation- prescribed burning
  • Reforestation, site preparation- control of understory
  • Mowing forest openings after August 1

Comments on management practices:
Swainson's warbler in southern Illinois requires habitat with high canopy closure and understory composed mainly of giant cane; maintenance of cane stands requires openings in the canopy; canestands can be created by clearcuts (max. 4 ha.) near established canebrakes that are then allowed to undergo reforestation *06*. Fire destroys living stands of cane, although hot fires may destroy overstory in dense forests, allowing invasion by cane *06*. Mowing reduces cane heights so as to be unsuitable for Swainson's warbler *06* clearing for agricultural eliminates cane permanently *06*. Over-grazing also eliminates cane stands *06*.

 


REFERENCES

0. SULOWAY, LIANE. ILL. NAT. HIST. SURV., NAT. RES. BLDG., CHAMPAIGN, IL. 61820. 217-333-6846

1. BOHLEN, H.D. 1978. AN ANNOTATED CHECK-LIST OF THE BIRDS OF ILLINOIS. ILL. STATE MUS. POP. SCI. SERIES VOL. 9. 154 PP.

2. BOWLES, M. AND R.H. THOM. 1981. ENDANGERED AND THREATENED BIRDS. IN:BOWLES, M.L. (ED.). ENDANGERED AND THREATENED VERTEBRATE ANIMALS AND VASCULAR PLANTS OF ILLINOIS. 189 PP. + APPENDICES.

3. AMERICAN ORNITHOLOGIST'S UNION. 1957. CHECK-LIST OF NORTH AMERICAN BIRDS. LORD BALTIMORE PRESS, BALTIMORE, MD. 691 PP.

4. ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF CONSERVATION. JAN. 1,1982. ILLINOIS LIST OF ENDANGERED AND THREATENED VERTEBRATE SPECIES. ILL. ADMINISTRATIVE CODE, TITLE 17, CHAPTER I, SUBCHAPTER C, PART 1010.

5. GRABER, J.W., R.R. GRABER, AND E.L. KIRK. 1983. ILLINOIS BIRDS: WOOD WARBLERS. ILL. NAT. HIST. SURV. BIOL. NOTES NO. 118. 144 PP.

6. EDDLEMAN, W.R., K.E. EVANS, AND W.H. ELDER. 1980. HABITAT CHARACTERISTICS AND MANAGEMENT OF SWAINSON'S WARBLER IN SOUTHERN ILLINOIS. WILDL. SOC. BULL. 8:228-233.

7. MEANLEY, B. 1971. NATURAL HISTORY OF THE SWAINSON'S WARBLER. NORTH AMERICAN FAUNA SERIES NO. 69. U.S. DEPT. INT., FISH WILDL. SERV., BUR. SPORT FISHERIES WILDL. U.S. GOV'T. PRINTING OFFICE, WASHINGTON, D.C. 90 PP.

8. GEORGE, W.C. 1972. BREEDING STATUS OF THE PURPLE GALLINULE, BROWN CREEPER, AND SWAINSON'S WARBLER IN ILLINOIS. WILSON BULL. 84:208- 210.

9. AMMANN, G.A. 1939. SWAINSON'S WARBLER IN ILLINOIS. WILSON BULL. 51:185-186.

10. GROSS, A.O. 1908. SWAINSON'S WARBLER (HELINAIA SWAINSONI). AUK 25:225.

11. BREWSTER, W. 1885. SWAINSON'S WARBLER. AUK 2:65-80.

12. CHAPMAN, F.M. 1907. THE WARBLERS OF NORTH AMERICA. APPLETON AND CO., NY. 306 PP.

13. GRISCOM, L. AND A. SPRUNT, JR. 1957. THE WARBLERS OF AMERICA. DEVIN-ADAIR CO., NY. 356 PP.

14. BENT, A.C. 1953. LIFE HISTORIES OF NORTH AMERICAN WOOD WARBLERS. U.S. NAT. MUS. BULL. 203. 734 PP.

15. U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE. 1983. CODE OF FEDERAL REGULAITONS. TITLE 50. WILDLIFE AND FISHERIES. CHAPTER 1. PP. 11-18. 50CFR.10.13. LIST OF MIGRATORY BIRDS. SPECIAL PUBL. FEDERAL REGISTER. GENERAL SERVICES ADMIN. OCTOBER 1.

16. HOWELL, A.H. 1910. BREEDING RECORDS FROM SOUTHERN ILLINOIS. AUK 27:216.

17. RIDGEWAY, R. 1878. NOTES ON BIRDS OBSERVED AT MOUNT CARMEL, SOUTHERN ILLINOIS, IN THE SPRING OF 1878. NUTTALL ORNITHOLOGICAL CLUB BULLETIN 3(4):162-166.

18. HARDY, J.W. 1955. RECORDS OF SWAINSON'S WARBLER IN SOUTHERN ILLINOIS. WILSON BULLETIN 67(1):60.

19. BREWER, R. 1958. SOME CORRECTIONS TO "A DISTRIBUTIONAL CHECK LIST OF THE BIRDS OF ILLINOIS." AUDUBON BULLETIN 106:9-11.

20. CLARK, C.T. AND M.M NICE. WILLIAM DREUTH'S STUDY OF BIRD MIGRATION IN LINCOLN PARK, CHICAGO. CHICAGO ACADEMY OF SCIENCES SPECIAL PUBLICATION 8. 43 PP.

21. GARDINER, L.F. 1959. ILLINOIS FIELD NOTES-1959. AUDUBON BULLETIN 110:6.

22. DILLON, S.T. 1971. ADDITIONAL AVIAN SPECIES SEEN AT MCGRAW WILDLIFE FOUNDATION. AUDUBON BULLETIN 159:18-20.

23. PETERSEN, P.C., JR. 1963. MIDDLEWESTERN PRAIRIE REGION. AUDUBON FIELD NOTES 17(4):407-409.

24. KLEEN, V.M. AND L. BUSH. 1972. SPRING MIGRATION. MIDDLEWESTERN PRAIRIE REGION. AMERICAN BIRDS 26(4):765-769.

25. _____, AND _____. 1973. MIDDLEWESTERN PRAIRIE REGION. AMERICAN BIRDS 27(4):777-781.

26. KLEEN, V.M. 1974-1975. FIELD NOTES. BREEDING SEASON. ILL. AUDUBON BULL. 171:16-18.

27. _____. 1976B. MIDDLEWESTERN PRAIRIE REGION. AMERICAN BIRDS 30(3): 846-850.

28. GEORGE, W.G. 1969. THE CURRENT STATUS OF CERTAIN BIRD SPECIES IN ILLINOIS. AUDUBON BULL. 150:12-15.

29. HARRISON, H. 1975. FIELD GUIDE TO BIRDS' NEST. HOUGHTON-MIFFLIN CO., BOSTON. 257 P.

30. ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF CONSERVATION. 1980. CONSERVATION LAWS. CH. 61. WILDLIFE.ART.II. PAR. 2.2. REPRINTED FROM ILLINOIS REVISED STATUTES, 1979. WEST PUBL. CO., ST. PAUL, MN. 120 PP.

 


 

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