Brown County Hills - Species Spotlight

Migratory Songbirds

The Brown County Hills Project Office has been working to protect and preserve the region's expansive forests for the past six years.

Many rare and beautiful birds rely on the Brown County Hills region for survival, including Cerulean warblers, Louisiana waterthrushes, Red-eyed vireos, Acadian flycatchers, Yellow-billed cuckoos and Scarlet tanagers. All of these birds depend on large, expansive forests — like Brown County Hills — for nesting and breeding. As large forests slowly disappear, their numbers decline.

The Cerulean Warbler

Indiana’s largest breeding population of Cerulean warblers is here, according to state Breeding Bird Atlas data. This warbler is a small songbird that flits among treetops, making it difficult to find. The warbler’s plumage is cerulean blue above and white below, with white wing bars and white tail spots.

The life of a Cerulean warbler is a prime example of the needs of the species the Conservancy is trying to protect in south-central Indiana. Picture a small compact nest high in the upper branches of an oak tree that contains 3 – 5 small eggs. Within 12 days, the eggs will hatch and both male and female parents will begin feeding the nestlings. Within the next 9 days, the nestlings are ready to fledge and head for lower vegetation where their parents will continue to feed them until they are independent. From the time they begin feeding themselves, they have three to four months to gain their strength, flying ability, and the fortitude to begin a journey that will take them over 2,300 miles to the Andean foothills, including a 20 hour non-stop flight over the Gulf of Mexico. Their primary food, insects, disappears as winter approaches.

Once they reach the Andean foothills, they will spend five months or so foraging in mixed flocks of birds on the abundant food resources in the southern hemisphere. Then they begin the return journey in April. The northbound trip is another incredible journey of non-stop flying for 20 to 40 hours across the Gulf of Mexico and then a series of flights looking for just the right habitat to nest and breed for the summer. Cerulean warblers spread out across the Midwest, but for many the place they are in search for is the large forest block of the Brown County Hills.

They make the journey expecting to find what they need to survive. The Nature Conservancy wants to ensure that when they return, they do find what they need to survive, to reproduce and to return year after year.

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