Kentucky Warbler Project

Posted by Russ Greenberg on January 28, 2010

The Kentucky Warbler Project at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia, was begun by Eugene S. Morton in 1979, and transferred to M. Victoria McDonald in 1988.

Kentucky warblers are studied intensively every breeding season, beginning with their first arrival from their wintering grounds in early May until they depart in mid-September.The major objectives of this long-term behavioral ecology and conservation of a Neotropical migratory bird project fall under 3 general categories.

  1. Demography

    monitoring reproductive success and annual return rates

  2. Basic Behavioral Research

    related to singing, mate choice, and paternity analysis

  3. Conservation Research

    based on interpreting the numbers, trends, and changing distribution of Kentucky warblers in relation to the rapidly changing (and decreasing) forest tracts in the Front Royal, Virginia area.

With an emphasis on careful investigation of reproductive success, this effort is accomplished by keeping daily records on all territorial activities of approximately 40 pairs of Kentucky warblers throughout the breeding season, including finding and following all nesting attempts.

Territories maps and correlations with habitat type are determined annually, and these data are stored and analyzed in an on-site GIS (Geographical Information System).

The role of song and mate choice also continues to be investigated.

In a related project, morphological measurements and plumage color data for Kentucky Warblers in all of the major North American museum collections have been collected.

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