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Birding favorite found at park

The rare cerulean warbler may be best seen now through mid-June at Shenandoah National Park. Photo courtesy of Bill Hubick (Buy photo)

By Ryan Cornell

One of the most rapidly declining songbird species in the world has found a comfortable home at Shenandoah National Park.

The cerulean warbler, which is classified at "vulnerable" status and is on the verge of being placed on the endangered species list, can be spotted by birdwatchers at the park this month.

The bird is identified by its blue sides and back, white underside and black streaks. It was once one of the most abundant breeding birds in the lower Mississippi Valley, states the park's website, and is now the fastest declining warbler species in the U.S.

According to BirdLife International, the warbler's population in 2006 was one-fifth of what it was 40 years prior. An analysis of North American Breeding Bird Survey data indicates that in those four decades, the decline has been at a rate of about 3 percent per year.

Rolf Gubler is a biologist at Shenandoah National Park who monitors the park's bird populations. He said the cerulean warblers, which can best be seen from early May to mid-June, forage atop the canopies of tall hardwood forests.

He said their population has been decimated as a result of habitat loss and forest fragmentation in the U.S., and deforestation in South America, where they migrate for the winter.

Shenandoah National Park's vegetation and intact forests provide an ideal habitat for the birds, Gubler said, and they can mostly be found along the ridges of the northern third of the park near Front Royal.

Because the birds perch so high up and move around so quickly, they can be difficult to spot with binoculars, but their rarity makes them a treasure for many birdwatchers.

"For life lists, it's definitely a species that people will want to target," he said. "And to get one in your glasses is lucky, it's a treat."

Other bird species in decline that can be spotted at the national park include the wood thrush, worm-eating warbler and the Kentucky warbler.

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com

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