Setophaga cerulea

Status:  Rare regular spring migrant east, rare casual central and west. Rare casual summer visitor east. Rare casual fall migrant east.

Documentation:  Specimen: UNSM ZM6860, 4 May 1901 Child’s Point, Sarpy Co.

Taxonomy:  No subspecies are recognized (Pyle 1997).

Spring:  May 1, 1, 3 <<<>>> summer

Arrival is in early May. The Missouri River Valley in Nebraska is at the northwestern edge of the summer range, and so most of the few sightings are probably of potential breeders (see Summer) or spring migrant overshoots.

There are fewer than 25 reports away from the Missouri River Valley, these in the period 26 Apr-6 Jun, many undocumented. Most are from the southeast and the Platte River Valley west to Lincoln Co. Reports elsewhere are 7 May 1999 Lake Ogallala, Keith Co (Brown and Brown 2001), 9 May 2021 Cuming Co (eBird.org), 13 May 2006 singing male near Newcastle, Dixon Co, Scottsbluff, Scotts Bluff Co 14-23 May 2005, Ponca SP, Dixon Co 24 May 2020, and a specimen collected by Short (1965) on 6 Jun 1964 Sheridan Co (see Summer).

  • High counts:  5 at Fontenelle Forest, Sarpy Co 4 May 1992 (Grzybowski 1992).

SummerCerulean Warbler has declined over most of its range (Robbins et al 1992) and it appears to have slowly withdrawn from Nebraska as a breeding species from the early 1900s to the present. Bruner et al (1904) considered it a “rather common summer resident along the wooded bluffs of the Missouri River, where it breeds”. By the mid-20th Century Rapp et al (1958) classified it only as an uncommon “summer resident along the Missouri River.” Silcock et al (2005) reviewed the species’ status after conducting a survey for it in which only 5-7 singing males were estimated to be present in Nebraska in 2004; these were in Richardson, Sarpy, Douglas, and Washington Cos. The only female found was at Hummel Park in Douglas Co, where Cerulean Warblers were observed regularly during the 1990s; however, no evidence of breeding was noted during the 2004 survey. Singles were at Hummel Park 1 Jun 2005 and 3 Jun 2006. Since 1990, all summer reports of Cerulean Warbler are from Richardson, Cass, Douglas, Sarpy, Washington, Thurston, and Dixon Cos; the only documentation of breeding since 1978 (Ducey 1988) was of a female gathering nesting material at Ashford Scout Camp, Thurston Co, 17-18 May 1997, one of four birds present. Two birds were at the same location 16 Jun 2001.

Most years a few singing males are reported; most are found at Fontenelle Forest and Indian Cave SP, Nemaha and Richardson Cos. However, there were no accepted records 2017-2019, and only one in 2020. As Cerulean Warbler has declined in Nebraska in recent years, doubt has been raised by Justin Rink (personal communication)  that heard only singers identified as Ceruleans at Indian Cave SP may in fact be Northern Parulas; all “odd” singers that might have been Ceruleans were tracked down and found by Justin Rink to be odd Northern Parulas. Both species are edge of range in Nebraska which increases the likelihood of such singers.

At Fontenelle Forest, one was present 14 Jun 1989, three were present 28 Apr-7 Jul 2011, and 3-4, including two females, were there 7-15 May 2016. One was singing at Neale Woods, Douglas Co 28 Jun 2000, and another was on River Trail, Krimlofski Tract, in extreme southeast Washington Co 5 and 9 May 2016. 

At Indian Cave SP, Richardson and Nemaha Cos, two were along Trail 9 on 6 Jun 1995, 1-2 were there 28 May and 24 Jun 2001, another 9 Jul 2006, one 6 Jun 2012, and a singing male 15 May 2015.

Elsewhere, a female was photographed at Conestoga Lake, Lancaster Co 21 May 2016, and one was at Walnut Grove Park, Omaha, 24 May 2016. A singing male recorded at Platte River SP, Cass Co 6 Jun 1997 was a first report from that location (Leger 1997); additional reports there are 27 Jul 2006 and 11 May 2015.

The only breeding season report away from these counties was of a male collected by Short (1965) along the Niobrara River near Rushville in Sheridan Co 6 Jun 1964; while this specimen had enlarged testes it was considered to be a migrant.

Fall: There are no documented records after Jul and only these reported dates: 28 Aug, 3 Sep, 4 Sep, and 19 Sep 2010 Omaha, Douglas Co. We consider a report of a very late immature in Dixon Co 24 Oct 2011 to be equivocal.  Away from the Missouri River Valley there are no documented reports.


SP: State Park
UNSM: University of Nebraska State Museum


Photograph (top) of a Cerulean Warbler at Hummel Park, Douglas Co 22 May 2005 by Phil Swanson.

Literature Cited

Brown, C.R., and M.B. Brown. 2001. Birds of the Cedar Point Biological Station. Occasional Papers of the Cedar Point Biological Station, No. 1.

Bruner, L., R.H. Wolcott, and M.H. Swenk. 1904. A preliminary review of the birds of Nebraska, with synopses. Klopp and Bartlett, Omaha, Nebraska, USA.

Ducey, J.E. 1988. Nebraska birds, breeding status and distribution. Simmons-Boardman Books, Omaha, Nebraska, USA.

Grzybowski, J.A. 1992. Southern Great Plains Region. American Birds 46: 443-446.

Leger, D.  1997.  Checklist S44323882: Platte River State Park, Cass County, Nebraska US. eBird.org, accessed 23 Jun 2018.

Pyle, P. 1997. Identification Guide to North American Birds. Part I, Columbidae to Ploceidae. Slate Creek Press, Bolinas, California, USA.

Rapp, W.F. Jr., J.L.C. Rapp, H.E. Baumgarten, and R.A. Moser. 1958. Revised checklist of Nebraska birds. Occasional Papers 5, Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union, Crete, Nebraska, USA.

Robbins, C.S., J.W. Fitzpatrick, and P.B. Hamel. 1992. A warbler in trouble: Dendroica cerulea.  Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C., USA.

Short, L.L., Jr. 1965. Bird records from northern Nebraska during the breeding season. NBR 33: 2-5.

Silcock, W.R., J.J. Dinan, B. Huser, and J.G. Jorgensen. 2005. Status of the Cerulean Warbler (Dendroica  cerulea) in Nebraska. NBR 73: 124-130.

Recommended Citation

Silcock, W.R., and J.G. Jorgensen.  2021.  Cerulean Warbler (Setophaga cerulea). In Birds of Nebraska — Online. www.BirdsofNebraska.org

Birds of Nebraska – Online

Updated 13 Jun 2021