Bachmans Warbler (Vermivora bachmanii)

Bachmans Warbler

The story

This tiny species divided its time between the south-eastern USA and Cuba, where it wintered. It was first identified by the Reverend John Bachman, a close personal friend of the famous painter and writer John James Audubon. Bachman was a resident of Charleston, and in July 1833 he found, in a local swamp, a small yellow and black bird that he did not recognize. He sent it on to Audubon for formal identification and the famous ornithologist quickly realized that it was something entirely new. Audubon, quite naturally, gave the species his friend’s name.

For a period of more than 50 years after that nothing further was heard of the new creature. Then, in 1886, a hunter by the name of Charles Galbraith shot a bird he had never seen before, just north of New Orleans. The next year he shot six more of the same birds, and during the following year he killed no less than 31. At this point he decided to have his mysterious specimens identified. They proved to be Bachman’s Warblers.

A year later, in March 1889, on a single day 21 warblers of the species struck a lighthouse on the Florida Keys. Just three years later a hunter killed 50 individuals on Florida’s Suwannee River. Through the first half of the twentieth century it proved possible to locate Bachman’s Warblers from time to time, but then the observations proved much less frequent. By the 1980’s the species was probably extinct, although, given its tendency to disappear, there is a faint chance that it might still survive. Although Bachman’s Warblers were always surrounded by a certain amount of mystery, their nests were found on a number of occasions. These were built low down in dense patches of bramble, situated along forested river courses. Reasons for the species’ extinction are unclear. The effect of hurricanes, changing land use, and the fragmentation of suitable territory have all been proposed as factors. Another suggestion is that the species was coming into increasing contact with the parasitic Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater), due to extensive forest clearance, and that the encroachments of this bird proved irresistible.

Authority and reference

Audubon, 1833 || Birds Amer. 2: pl. 185.

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