Are New World Warblers down in numbers this breeding season?

This is kind of depressing but over the last few years, and this year in particular, I’ve noticed warblers in our area (North Carolina) have really disappeared. I don’t use the word “declined” because I’m not sure if it’s just our area or if others have noticed a real down-turn in the number of migratory bird species, including warblers.

It’s been kind of a trend here for a while now but this year has just been remarkably bad for birding. Granted, we’ve been having drought conditions over the summer and that didn’t help. Our environment where I go birding hasn’t changed or has been improving (we had 30 acres of swamp/woodland and then added 60 acres of cut-over–we couldn’t afford the timber so we couldn’t save it–and have replanted/been improving the 60 acres).

When I first moved here 30 years ago, we had Yellow-throated Warblers, Kentucky Warblers, Hooded Warblers, Worm-eating Warblers, Swainson’s Warbler, Ovenbirds, Wood Thrush, Eastern Wood-Pewees, Prothonotary Warblers, and many others. During migration we’d get American Redstarts and a host of others. Two years ago, there were so many Prothonotary Warblers that several nested in old bluebird boxes in our yard and I had to put stickers on the windows because they kept hitting them.

This year, we only had two pairs of Prothonotary Warblers way back in the swamp. We had no Kentucky, hooded, Swainson’s, Worm-eating, Wood Thrush, Eastern Wood-Pewees, Yellow-throated Warblers, or many others… I won’t bore you with the whole list.

We did have a wood-pewee now that migration has started and we had a Wood Thrush back in spring migration (but the thrush didn’t stay around, or if it did, it was remarkably silent). But usually, by this time, I’m starting to see other thrushes in migration and we haven’t had squat.

So…I’m wondering if the numbers of migratory birds (and in particular New World Warblers) are really down or if there’s just something going on here. Maybe the drought really crushed bird populations in our area. We have a large pond and there was still some (not a lot, but some) water in the swamp, so I would have thought that we’d actually have seen more birds in our immediate vicinity because of the available water…

Just wondering about the birding experiences of others this last breeding season.
(And really hoping to hear that it’s just some local issue and not part of a general, wide-spread decline.)


In southeastern Pennsylvania a local birder said this fall’s migration was the ‘Silent Spring’ for warblers.


I am not sure that the impact on warblers is disproportionate, but the overall decline in bird numbers is summarized here:


I think it is probably across the board but I just tend to notice warblers more…

Thank you for the link and information. I appreciate it!

And yet you look at and browse through the warbler species: black&white, Prothontary, Tennessee, Orange-crowned, Colima, Lucy’s, Nashville, Virginia, Connecticut, MacGillivray, Mourning, Kentucky and Yellowthroat. They are all listed as Least Concern. I didn’t look through all american species.

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Least Concern is a designation that comes from the IUCN – I have worked on one of their advisory teams (but for a different group of organisms, not birds), and I have to say that their ability to track fast-moving changes and/or likely future changes is limited by a fairly rigid/algorithmic “hard evidence”-based approach.

This was probably seen as important for maintaining credibility, but IMO it means that the method is hopelessly slow and constrained in the cases of data-poor organisms (e.g. fungi), as well as species for whom climate change and habitat destruction are proceeding faster than data on their population trajectories is being collected.


Ever since I read that book, I feared I would live to hear Silent Spring – or not hear it, as the case may be.

In my area (SE Florida - greater Miami area) I have seen less warblers and migrating songbirds than usual, but wind and weather conditions have been extremely favorable for birds to continue migrating to their final destination since mid August, so it has been difficult to see birds as many of them are not really staying to hang out with favorable migrating conditions.
Typically the last two weeks of Sept and especially first two of Oct are our best birding weeks so hopefully activity picks up.
Favorable migrating conditions could be a factor in your area as well for seeing less birds this season.

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Thank you–I figured the migrating birds just kept right on going past us–I hadn’t realized that there were favorable migrating conditions that might also be encouraging this. The “bird radar” ( ) is showing migration but as you said, I think they are just blowing past us.

My real concern was if folks were seeing the nesting birds of the migratory species this summer that they’ve seen in the past. Our numbers here are way, way down from my observation. But that’s just me and it’s just on our 100 acres (I go out every day for several hours to see what is around) so it’s just one person’s experience. Anecdotal as it were.

But I have noticed a steady downward spiral of species over the years and we just don’t get all the species we used to get. We ran a bird banding station here for several years and had all kinds of species at that time. We’re just not seeing those anymore, except the brief, occassional migrant blowing through either in the spring or fall.

This year has just been outstandingly poor as even during migration periods we’re just not seeing many of our normal species.

I’ve been secretly afraid that I’ve just lost my birding skills due to age and that everyone else is seeing plenty of migratory birds. Or that I’m just nuts. Or unduly concerned. Or the birds hate us now.

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@karnevil9 I should note that I kind of agree with least concern on the Yellowthroat since we’ve been inundated with them over the summer. We’ve always had them and their numbers appear to be up at least along the ditches that line our driveway and front yard. But that’s just now when the immatures are all over the place. They’re a permanent resident here and by next spring, a lot of those immatures just won’t make it so in the spring, we’ll just have a few pairs (I hope we still have them, that is).

But the others? They seem to be down, at least around here. Particularly the Black&White and the Prothonotary. The B&W is a permanent resident but we only have two pairs here that I can find and I didn’t see any immatures. They may be there but it may have been a poor year for reproduction. The Prothonotary Warblers are usually all over the place and I only found one pair “and a half”–a male that was wandering around but I never saw a second female in his area. But I did see some immature prothonotaries so at least the one pair had at least one successful brood.

The Red-eyed Vireos did really well this year, though, and are all over the place right now. The White-eyed Vireos are permanent residents here and they did pretty well, too, and there are several immatures flitting around our yard. The vireos are mostly migrants and I had a hard time convincing eBird that the WHite-eyed Vireos are permanent here (or at least are here all year around, but I can’t claim they are the same individual all year around) despite sending them photographs during the winter months when they “aren’t here.” Sigh.

I don’t know, really, what is going on. It’s difficult to really spot trends or know anything for sure. I wish we still had the banding station here because then at least I’d know if some individuals are surviving and if they are returning here. It was at least some decent data.

Your skills are surely still dialed!
I volunteer at a banding station and looking at season totals, there does seem to be a gradual decline in numbers over the last 20 years when comparing “Birds per Net Hour” which is the measurement we use in an attempt to balance out variables.
A migrating bird’s mission is to reach their final destination, and in our case being in SE FL where most of our migrators go to FL Keys, Caribbean and South America, we have had predominantly low intensity SW winds and little to no rain over the last weeks so my theory (not scientifically proven or evidence based) is that conditions are just too good for them to stop even if its just for a quick rest and refuel.
I think they’re just continuing along on their journeys…

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Why did your banding station close out of curiousity?

There were several reasons but mostly some of the rules changed and retirement. My husband ran it as part of his job as a wildlife biologist…

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