WatchList > View WatchList
Photo by Thomas E. Martin.
One of North America's most brightly-colored warblers, Red-faced Warblers breed in the high-elevation coniferous forests of Arizona, New Mexico, and western Mexico. Because of its limited North American distribution in remote areas, this species' population trends are difficult to estimate, but the species may be declining slightly. Much remains to be learned about the biology of Red-faced Warblers, but it is known that these birds are extremely sensitive to habitat degradation, a fact that places it at risk to future logging.
These striking birds are the only North American warblers with bright reddish faces and upper breasts. This pattern is interrupted by a black "bonnet" on the head and a white nape. Red-faced Warblers have slate-gray backs, white underparts, and white rumps. The two sexes are similar in appearance, but the faces and upper breasts of females are orange-red, compared with the scarlet red color of males.
Red-faced Warblers breed only in Arizona, New Mexico, and adjacent western Mexico at elevations roughly between 6,600 and 9,200 feet. This species can be found year-round in the Mexican states of Sinaloa and Durango. From there, it winters south through the highlands of southern Mexico to northern Oaxaca. These birds can also be found wintering in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.
The Red-faced Warbler population in the United States may be declining slightly, but this species' restricted distribution makes it difficult to make a meaningful population trend estimate.
This species typically breeds at high elevations in montane fir, pine, and pine-oak forests, and is also commonly found in montane pine-oak forests on its Mexican wintering grounds. Red-faced Warblers nest on the ground, with females placing a well-hidden cup nest in a small hole or hollow, often with an overhang to protect and conceal it. Females alone incubate a clutch of four to five eggs for about two weeks, and then both parents feed the chicks. Young birds leave the nest about 11 to 13 days after hatching, but receive parental care from the adults (who sometimes split the group of young birds between themselves) for a month or more. Although Red-faced Warblers appear to be monogamous, with a single pair of birds defending a territory together, they exhibit high rates of extra-pair copulations. As a result, almost 75% of nests have at least one young bird sired by a male other than the territorial male.
The diet of Red-faced Warblers is not fully-known, but the birds are known to feed largely on butterfly and moth caterpillars during their breeding season. The warblers also eat other insects, such as flies and leafhoppers. Red-faced Warblers appear to forage mostly by gleaning insects from foliage while moving along the limbs of trees, but they do also feed by hover-gleaning and flycatching.
The main threat facing Red-faced Warblers is habitat degradation as a result of logging activity. This species appears to be especially sensitive to any habitat disturbance on its breeding grounds, occurring only in undisturbed forest. Logging in areas where these warblers breed results in a drastic decline or complete disappearance of the species from those areas.
Red-faced Warblers have been identified as a priority bird species by Partners in Flight for the Mexican Highlands and Mogollon Rim physiographic areas. This bird is also a study species in the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology's Birds in Forested Landscapes project.
What Can You Do?
Audubon and our partners in conservation coordinated the submission of over two million comments to the U.S. Forest Service in support of the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which would protect habitat for Red-faced Warblers and many other species. Unfortunately, implementation of the Rule has been stalled and attempts are being made to weaken it. To help in protecting these vital habitats visit: http://www.audubon.org/campaign/latestnews.html#roadless.
The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and the USDA Forest Service coordinate Birds in Forested Landscapes, a citizen-science project that links volunteer birders and professional ornithologists in a study of the habitat requirements of North American forest birds, including Red-faced Warblers. To learn more about Birds in Forested Landscapes, and how you can participate in the project, visit: http://birds.cornell.edu/bfl/.
Dunn, J., and K. Garrett. 1997. Peterson Field Guide: Warblers. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York.
Howell, S. N.G., and S. Webb. 1995. A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America. Oxford University Press.
Kaufman, Kenn. 1996. Lives of North American Birds. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York.
Martin, T.E. "Trophic changes in a high-elevation riparian system." Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America, January 2007, 88:37.
Martin, T.E. and P.M. Barber. 1995. Red-faced Warbler (Cardellina rubrifrons). In The Birds of North America, No. 152 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D. C.