Kentucky warbler
Oporornis formosus
ITIS Species Code:   178937         NatureServ Element Code:   ABPBX11010
NatureServe Global Rank: 
NatureServe State (NC) Rank: 
Federal Status: 
NC State Status: 
Southern Blue Ridge:  24 Southern Piedmont:  21 South Atl. Coastal Plain:  22
Land Unit

US Fish & Wildlife Service
US Forest Service
US National Park Service
US Department of Defense
NC State Parks
NC University System
NC Wildlife Res. Com.
NC Forest Service
NC Div. of Coastal Mgmt.
Local Governments
Non-Governmental Org.
Other Public Lands
Private Lands

GAP Status 1-2
All Protected Lands




% of Dist. on
Prot. Lands

23.7 %
26.2 %
9.2 %
5.2 %
7.3 %
2.8 %
14.0 %
1.6 %
2.4 %
6.8 %
6.8 %
< 0.1 %
0.1 %

56.2 %
% of Dist. on
All Lands

3.2 %
3.5 %
1.3 %
0.7 %
1.0 %
0.4 %
1.9 %
0.2 %
0.3 %
< 0.1 %
0.9 %
< 0.1 %
86.6 %

7.5 %
Breeds from the mountains east across the piedmont to the fall belt (Potter et al. 1980). Rare in the coastal plain, found mainly along western border of region (Fussell 1994).

Found on (often north-facing) slopes and in ravines of the interior regions of shady upland deciduous or mixed forests (Dunn and Garrett 1997), riparian areas (Alsop 1991) and wet bottomland hardwoods (Potter et al. 1980), especially cove hardwoods (Simpson 1992) and often along streams (Stupka 1963). Habitat always includes shrubs (Potter et al. 1980) such as laurel and rhododendron tangles (Nicholson 1997) and a ground cover of herbaceous vines and plants (Alsop 1991). Prefers large trees with an open overstory (Anderson and Shugart 1974, Robbins, Dawson, and Dowell 1989). Areas subject to frequent flooding are avoided (Dunn and Garrett 1997).

The nest site is often near the forest edge or in a small opening (Nicholson 1997). The nest is built near the ground in the crotch of a shrub (Nicholson 1997) or on the ground at the base of a shrub (Ehrlich et al. 1988, Potter et al. 1980) or tree (Griscom and Sprunt 1957) and well-hidden in surrounding vegetation (Nicholson 1997). Forages on the ground, gleaning insects from the undersides of herbaceous plants (Ehrlich et al. 1988), in the leaf litter, and along low branches (Dunn and Garrett 1997).


BREEDING: Humid deciduous forest (Hamel 1992), dense second growth, swamps. Occurs up to 1050 m elevation (Hamel 1992). Occurs in stands of various ages but is most common in medium-aged forests (Shugart et al. 1978). Prefers forests with a slightly open canopy, dense understory, and well-developed ground cover (Bushman and Therres 1988). Seldom found in conifers. In Virginia, McShea et al. (1995) found that forest type, streams, and the density of deer were significant variables in territory selection, but forest age (within a reasonable span of years) and the presence of a habitat boundary did not contribute significantly. Specifically, warblers selected cove hardwoods and avoided oak/hickory overstory. The avoidance of oak/hickory overstory is surprising, since a nonquantified gestalt impression of distribution at this site would at first suggest they prefer oak/hickory. Areas with streams and low white-tailed deer (ODOCOILEUS VIRGINIANUS) density also were selected.

NON-BREEDING: In migration, habitats include forest, woodland, scrub, and thickets. In winter, habitat includes the floor of rain forests; also second growth, forest edge, undergrowth (AOU 1983, Bushman and Therres 1988). This species was found in wet forest (most commonly), moist forest (less commonly), and dry forest (rarely) on the Yucatan Peninsula (Lynch 1992); birds were also captured in mid-successional Acahual habitat. From studies in various Latin American countries, Robbins et al. (1992) concluded that wintering birds are ground foragers that require forest. Some birds were found in early successional habitats, but only an occasional bird was captured in pine woods or agricultural habitats. In Belize, found to prefer broadleaved forest edge and interior habitats (Petit et al. 1992).

Occupied Landcover Map Units:
Code NameDescription NC Natural Heritage Program Equivalent
75 Tidal Swamp Forest Swamp tupelo dominated forest with or without black tupelo and/or cypress trees. Restricted to the tidal zones in the coastal plain. May have inclusions of coastal red cedar woodlands. Tidal cypress - gum swamp
126 Interdune Wooded Depression Swamp Includes swamps dominated by sweetbay and swampbay or dogwood dominated forests. Maritime Shrub Swamp, Maritime Swamp Forest
50 Coastal Plain Mixed Bottomland Forests Includes forests dominated by a variety of hardwood species, including sweetgum, cottonwood, red maple. Coastal Plain Bottomland Hardwood (in part), Coastal Plain Levee Forest
49 Coastal Plain Oak Bottomland Forest Bottomland forests dominated by deciduous oak alliances. Oaks represented can include swamp chestnut, cherrybark, willow, and/or overcup oak. Inclusions of loblolly pine temporarily flooded forests occur in patches. Hydrology is temporarily to seasonally flooded. Coastal Plain Bottomland Hardwoods (in part) blackwater subtype, brownwater subtype
158 Coastal Plain Nonriverine Wet Flat Forests Loblolly pine - Atlantic white-cedar - red maple - swamp tupelo saturated forests as well as forests dominated by loblolly, sweetgum, and red maple in non-riverine flats. Non-riverine Wet Hardwood Forest
15 Seepage and Streamhead Swamps Includes extensive peat flats in the coastal plain, dominated by swamp tupelo, maples, and Atlantic white cedar alliances. In the sandhills includes streamhead pond pine and bay forests alliances. Saturated hydrology. Bay Forest, Small Depression Pocosin, Streamhead Atlantic White Cedar Forest, Streamhead Pocosins
30 Cypress-Gum Floodplain Forests Swamps dominated by black or swamp tupelo with or without Taxodium. Seasonally to semi-permanently flooded hydrology. Cypress-Gum Swamps
78 Pond-Cypress - Gum Swamps, Savannas and Lakeshores Cypress dominated swamps and lakeshores. Can include bays dominated by pond cypress or shorelines of coastal plain lakes with a narrow band of cypress. Non-riverine Swamp Forest, Natural Lakeshores (in part)
385 Oak Bottomland Forest and Swamp Forest The swamp chestnut oak, cherrybark oak, shumard oak and sweetgum alliance is one representative. Other alliances are dominated by water, willow, and overcup oaks. Swamp forests can be dominated by sweetgum, red maple, and black gum being dominant. Loblolly can occur in combination with sweetgum and red maple, or with tulip poplar. Includes saturated and semi- to permanently flooded forests in the mountains. Piedmont/Mountain Bottomland Forest, Piedmont/Mountain Swamp Forest
63 Coastal Plain Mesic Hardwood Forests Beech dominated forests with white oak and northern red oak as possible co-dominants. Dry-mesic to mesic forests on slopes and small stream bottoms in the coastal plain. Mesic Mixed Hardwood Forest, Basic Mesic Forests
230 Piedmont Mesic Forest American Beech - Red Oak - White Oak Forests. Mesic Mixed Hardwood
384 Piedmont/Mountain Mixed Bottomland Hardwood Forests Includes temporarily to seasonally forests dominated by hardwood species. Hardwoods include sweetgum, red maple, sycamore which co-occur in a mosaic of bottomland and levee positions. Includes alluvial hardwood forests in the mountains. Hemlock and white pine may occur as inclusions, but are generally mapped separately. Piedmont/Mountain Alluvial Forest, Piedmont/Mountain Levee Forest
51 Deciduous Cultivated Plantation Planted deciduous trees. Includes sweetgum and sycamore plantations. No equivalent
517 Hemlock Floodplain Forest Alluvial forest with hemlock and/or white pine in mountains and western piedmont. Hydrology is generally temporarily to seasonally flooded. Canada Hemlock Forest
522 Northern Hardwoods High Elevation forests including yellow birch, American beech, and yellow buckeye. Includes forests with Hemlock and Yellow Birch. Northern Hardwoods Forest, Boulderfield Forest
525 Appalachian Oak Forest A variety of oak forest types including Black, White, Scarlet Oaks in dry to mesic situations. Includes forests historically co-dominated by American Chestnut. High Elevation Red Oak Forest, Montane White Oak Forest
526 Appalachian Cove Forest Mixed Mesophytic forests of the mountains. Includes tuliptree, basswood, yellow buckeye and surgar maple. This class is mapped to include cove forests dominated or co-dominated by hemlock. Rich Cove Forest, Acidic Cove Forest
527 Appalachian Hemlock Upland hemlock forests of the moutains region. Vary from side slopes to steep slope positions. Canada Hemlock Forest
533 Appalachian Swamp Forest Evergreen and deciduous forests with saturated hydrologies. This class may contain a variety of trees species, including hemlock - red maple, pitch pine, and white pine forests. Swamp Forest-Bog Complex, Southern Appalachian Bog, Southern Appalachian Fen
View Entire Landcover Legend
Additional Spatial Constraints:
Exclude all area outside of known range.
Exclude all land greater than 200 meters from an open water feature.
Exclude all land greater than 200 meters from wet vegetation.
Limited to elevation range: less than 3500 ft.
Exclude areas of intensive human activity including moderately to highly developed landscapes.
Anderson, S. H., and H. H. Shugart, Jr. 1974. Habitat selection of breeding birds in an east Tennessee deciduous forest. Ecology 55:828-37.

Petit, D. R., L. J. Petit, and K. G. Smith. 1992. Habitat associations of migratory birds overwinterning in Belize, Central America. Pages 247-56 in J. M. Hagan III, and D. W. Johnston (editors). Ecology and Conservation of Neotropical Migrant Landbirds.

Robbins, C.S., B.A. Dowell, D.K. Dawson, J.A. Colon, R. Estrada, A. Sutton, R. Sutton, and D. Weyer. 1992. Comparison of Neotropical migrant landbird poulations wintering in tropical forest, isolated forest fragments, and agricultural habitats. Pages 207-

Wenny, D.G., R.L. Clawson, J. Faaborg, and S.L. Sheriff. 1993. Population density, habitat selection, and minimum area requirements of three forest interior warblers in central Missouri. Condor 95:968-979.

Carter, M., G. Fenwick, C. Hunter, D. Pashley, D. Petit, J. Price, and J. Trapp. 1996. Watchlist 1996:For the future. Field Notes 50(3):238-240.

Bent, A.C. 1953. Life histories of North American wood warblers. U.S. Natl. Mus. Bull. 203. Washington, D.C.

Hagan, J.M., III, and D.W. Johnston, editors. 1992. Ecology and conservation of neotropical migrant landbirds. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C. xiii + 609 pp.

Hamel, P. B. 1992. The land manager's guide to the birds of the south. The Nature Conservancy, Chapel Hill, North Carolina. 367 pp + several appendices.

Shugart, H. H., T. M. Smith, J. T. Kitchings, and R. L. Kroodsma. 1978. The relationship of nongame birds to southern forest types and successional stages. Pages 5-16 in R. M. DeGraaf (editor). Management of southern forests for nongame birds. U.S. Forest

Lynch, J. F. 1992. Distribution of overwintering Neararctic migrants in the Yucatan Peninsula, II:Use of native and human-modified vegetation. Pages 178-96 in J. M. Hagan III, and D. W. Johnston (editors). Ecology and Conservation of Neotropical Migrant L

Mabey, S.E., and E.S. Morton. 1992. Demography and territorial behavior of wintering Kentucky Warblers in Panama. Pages 329-336 in J.M. Hagan III and D.W. Johnston, editors. Ecology and conservation of neotropical and migrant landbirds. Smithsonian Instit

Sauer, J.R., and S. Droege. 1992. Geographical patterns in population trends of neotropical migrants in North America. Pages 26-42 in J.M. Hagan III and D.W. Johnston, editors. Ecology and conservation of neotropical migrant landbirds. Smithsonian Institu

McShea, W.J., M.V. McDonald, E.S. Morton, R. Meier, and J.H. Rappole. 1995. Long-term trends in habitat selection by Kentucky Warblers. Auk 112:375-381.

Rappole, J.H., and D.W. Warner. 1980. Ecological aspects of migrant bird behavior in Veracruz, Mexico. Pages 353-393 in A. Keast and E.S. Morton, editors. Migrant birds in the neotropics:ecology, behavior, distribution, and conservation. Smithsonian Insti

Fussell, J.O. III. 1994. A birderís guide to coastal North Carolina. Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press.

Dunn, J.L., and K.L. Garrett. 1997. A field guide to warblers of North America. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston.

Nicholson CP. 1997. Atlas of the breeding birds of Tennessee. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press.

Robbins, C.S., D.K. Dawson, and B.A. Dowell. 1989. Habitat area requirements of breeding forest birds of the Middle Atlantic states. Wildlife Monographs No. 103.

Gibbs, J. P., and J. Faaborg. 1990. Estimating the viability of ovenbird and Kentucky warbler populations in forest fragments. Conservation Biology 4:193-196.

Harrison, C. 1978. A field guide to the nests, eggs and nestlings of North American birds. Collins, Cleveland, Ohio.

Griscom, L., and A. Sprunt, Jr. 1979. The warblers of America. Doubleday and Co., Garden City, New York. 302 pp.

Harrison, H.H. 1979. A field guide to western birds' nests. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. 279 pp.

Keast, A., and E. S. Morton. 1980. Migrant birds in the Neotropics; ecology, distribution, and conservation. Smithsonian Inst. Press, Washington, D.C.

Potter, E. F., J. F. Parnell, and R. P. Teulings. 1980. Birds of the Carolinas. Univ. North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill. 408 pp.

Terres, J.K. 1980. The Audubon Society encyclopedia of North American birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.

American Ornithologists' Union (AOU), Committee on Classification and Nomenclature. 1983. Check-list of North American Birds. Sixth Edition. American Ornithologists' Union, Allen Press, Inc., Lawrence, Kansas.

Raffaele, H.A. 1983. A guide to the birds of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Fondo Educativo Interamericano, San Juan, Puerto Rico. 255 pp.

Harrison, H.H. 1984. Wood warblers' world. Simon and Schuster, New York. 335 pp.

Bushman, E.S., and G.D. Therres. 1988. Habitat management guidelines for forest interior breeding birds of coastal Maryland. Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Tech. Publ. 88-1. 50 pp.

Ehrlich, P.R., D.S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1988. The birder's handbook:a field guide to the natural history of North American birds. Simon and Shuster, Inc., New York. xxx + 785 pp.

Ridgely, R.S., and G. Tudor. 1989. The birds of South America. Vol. 1. The Oscine passerines. Univ. Texas Press, Austin. 516 pp.

Stiles, F.G., and A.F. Skutch. 1989. A guide to the birds of Costa Rica. Comstock Publ. Associates, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York. 511 pp.

Droege, S., and J.R. Sauer. 1990. North American Breeding Bird Survey, annual summary, 1989. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Biological Report 90(8). 22 pp.

Alsop FJ III. 1991. Birds of the Smokies. Gatlinburg: Great Smoky Mountains Natural History Association.

10 March 2005
This data was compiled and/or developed by the North Carolina GAP Analysis Project.

For more information please contact them at:
NC-GAP Analysis Project
Dept. of Zoology, NCSU
Campus Box 7617
Raleigh, NC 27695-7617
(919) 513-2853