Cuban warbler

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Cuban warblers [1]
Yellow-headed Warbler (Teretistris fernandinae) cropped.jpg
Yellow-headed warbler (Teretistris fernandinae)
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Teretistridae
Baird 1864
Cabanis, 1855

See text

Oriente warbler (above), and yellow-headed warbler (below); illustration by Keulemans, 1885 TeretistrisKeulemans.jpg
Oriente warbler (above), and yellow-headed warbler (below); illustration by Keulemans, 1885

The Cuban warblers are a genus, Teretistris, and family, Teretistridae, of birds endemic to Cuba and its surrounding cays. Until 2002 they were thought to be New World warblers, but DNA studies have shown that they are not closely related to that family. The family consists of two species, the yellow-headed warbler and the Oriente warbler. Both species are found in forest and scrub, with the yellow-headed warbler ranging in the west of the island and the Oriente warbler in the east. The Cuban warblers are 13 cm (5.1 in) long and have similar yellow and grey plumage.

Endemism Ecological state of being unique to a defined geographic location or habitat

Endemism is the ecological state of a species being unique to a defined geographic location, such as an island, nation, country or other defined zone, or habitat type; organisms that are indigenous to a place are not endemic to it if they are also found elsewhere. The extreme opposite of endemism is cosmopolitan distribution. An alternative term for a species that is endemic is precinctive, which applies to species that are restricted to a defined geographical area.

Cay small island formed on the surface of a coral reef

A cay, also spelled caye or key, is a small, low-elevation, sandy island on the surface of a coral reef. Cays occur in tropical environments throughout the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans.

New World warbler family of birds

The New World warblers or wood-warblers are a group of small, often colorful, passerine birds which make up the family Parulidae and are restricted to the New World. They are not closely related to Old World warblers or to Australian warblers. Most are arboreal, but some, like the ovenbird and the two waterthrushes, are primarily terrestrial. Most members of this family are insectivores.


The Cuban warblers are insectivores, with beetles forming a large part of the diet. Small reptiles and fruit are also taken. They feed in bushes and trees, in pairs or in small flocks during the non-breeding season, and are often the nucleus species for mixed-species feeding flocks with other birds, particularly migrants from North America.

Insectivore organism that eats insects

An insectivore is a carnivorous plant or animal that eats insects. An alternative term is entomophage, which also refers to the human practice of eating insects.

Beetle order of insects

Beetles are a group of insects that form the order Coleoptera, in the superorder Endopterygota. Their front pair of wings are hardened into wing-cases, elytra, distinguishing them from most other insects. The Coleoptera, with about 400,000 species, is the largest of all orders, constituting almost 40% of described insects and 25% of all known animal life-forms; new species are discovered frequently. The largest of all families, the Curculionidae (weevils) with some 70,000 member species, belongs to this order. Found in almost every habitat except the sea and the polar regions, they interact with their ecosystems in several ways: beetles often feed on plants and fungi, break down animal and plant debris, and eat other invertebrates. Some species are serious agricultural pests, such as the Colorado potato beetle, while others such as Coccinellidae eat aphids, scale insects, thrips, and other plant-sucking insects that damage crops.

Bird migration seasonal movement of birds

Bird migration is the regular seasonal movement, often north and south along a flyway, between breeding and wintering grounds. Many species of bird migrate. Migration carries high costs in predation and mortality, including from hunting by humans, and is driven primarily by availability of food. It occurs mainly in the northern hemisphere, where birds are funneled on to specific routes by natural barriers such as the Mediterranean Sea or the Caribbean Sea.


The genus Teretistris was long thought to sit in the New World warbler family Parulidae, until a 2002 study examined 25 genera of New World warbler using mitochondrial and nuclear DNA found that six genera were best placed outside the family, including Teretistris. [2] Five of the genera had long been suspected to not sit comfortably inside Parulidae, but before this study there had never been a suggestion that Teretistris did not belong in the New World warbler family. [1]

Family is one of the eight major hierarchical taxonomic ranks in Linnaean taxonomy; it is classified between order and genus. A family may be divided into subfamilies, which are intermediate ranks between the ranks of family and genus. The official family names are Latin in origin; however, popular names are often used: for example, walnut trees and hickory trees belong to the family Juglandaceae, but that family is commonly referred to as being the "walnut family".

Mitochondrial DNA DNA located in cellular organelles called mitochondria

Mitochondrial DNA is the DNA located in mitochondria, cellular organelles within eukaryotic cells that convert chemical energy from food into a form that cells can use, adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Mitochondrial DNA is only a small portion of the DNA in a eukaryotic cell; most of the DNA can be found in the cell nucleus and, in plants and algae, also in plastids such as chloroplasts.

DNA Molecule that encodes the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known organisms and many viruses

Deoxyribonucleic acid is a molecule composed of two chains that coil around each other to form a double helix carrying the genetic instructions used in the growth, development, functioning, and reproduction of all known organisms and many viruses. DNA and ribonucleic acid (RNA) are nucleic acids; alongside proteins, lipids and complex carbohydrates (polysaccharides), nucleic acids are one of the four major types of macromolecules that are essential for all known forms of life.

A follow up study published in 2013 supported the separation of the genus from Parulidae but found it difficult to resolve exactly where it sat with the other nine-primaried songbirds. [3] Their closest relatives may be the wrenthrush, genus Zeledonia, now often treated as a monotypic family, Zeledoniidae. [4] The study's authors nevertheless recommended separating the genus into its own family, Teretistridae. [3] The family was included in the 58th supplement of the American Ornithological Society (AOC) checklist in 2017, [5] and the family has also been accepted by the International Ornithological Congress' (IOC) Birds of the World: Recommended English Names , [6] the Handbook of the Birds of the World's HBW Alive [4] and The Clements Checklist of Birds of the World. [7] These four authorities have also adopted the common name of Cuban warblers for the family. [4] [5] [6] [7] The 2013 Howard and Moore Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World took a different approach, however, and placed the two Cuban warblers with the wrenthrush in the family Zeledoniidae. [8]

Wrenthrush species of bird

The wrenthrush or Zeledonia is a unique species of nine-primaried oscine which is endemic to Costa Rica and western Panama. Neither a wren nor a thrush, it has a short tail, rounded wings and elongated tarsi.

American Ornithological Society

The American Ornithological Society (AOS) is an ornithological organization based in the United States. The society was formed in October 2016 by the merger of the American Ornithologists' Union (AOU) and the Cooper Ornithological Society. Its members are primarily professional ornithologists although membership is open to anyone with an interest in birds. The AOS is a member of the Ornithological Council and Ornithological Societies of North America (OSNA). The society publishes the two scholarly journals The Auk and The Condor as well as the AOS Checklist of North American Birds.

<i>Birds of the World: Recommended English Names</i> book

Birds of the World: Recommended English Names is a paperback book, written by Frank Gill and Minturn Wright on behalf of the International Ornithologists' Union. The book is an attempt to produce a standardized set of English names for all bird species, and it is the product of a project set in motion at the 1990 International Ornithological Congress. It is supplemented by a website, the IOC World Bird List, giving updates to the published material.

The family contains two closely related species, usually treated as a species pair: [9] [10]

Yellow-headed warbler species of bird

The Yellow-headed warbler is a species of bird formerly placed in the Parulidae family, now in the Cuban warbler family, Teretistridae. It is endemic to extreme western Cuba and is the sister species to its fellow Cuban endemic, the Oriente warbler, which, as its common name implies, is found in Cuba's east.

Oriente warbler species of bird

The Oriente warbler is a species of bird in the Cuban warbler family, Teretistridae, that is endemic to Cuba. Its natural habitats dry forests, lowland moist forests, montane moist forests, and xeric shrublands. As its common name implies, the Oriente warbler is found in Cuba's east; it is the sister species to its fellow Cuban endemic, the Yellow-headed warbler, found in extreme western Cuba.

The yellow-headed warbler is monotypic, meaning it has no described subspecies. In 2000 a subspecies of the Oriente warbler, turquinensis, was described from Pico Turquino, a mountain in the south of the island. [7] [8] [10] The subspecies has been accepted by some authorities, [6] but one has suggested that further research is required. [11]

Distribution and habitat

The Cuban warblers are, as their name suggests, endemic to Cuba and its surrounding islands and cays. They have an allopatric distribution, with the yellow-headed warbler living in the west of the island and the Oriente warbler living in the east. The yellow-headed warbler is found on the northern coast of the west of the island, as well as the Zapata Peninsula, Guanahacabibes Peninsula and Isla de la Juventud to the south of Cuba. The Oriente warbler has a more discontinuous range along the northern coast of the east of the island, and a more continuous presence in the south of the island in the Oriente region. The recently described subspecies turquinensis is found in the eastern mountains of Oriente. The species is also found on the cays to the north of Cuba, but not any cays to the south. The disjunct populations are thought to be due to a lack of suitable habitat in the east. Where the two species co-occur in the Matanzas Province the Oriente warbler is found along the coast whereas the yellow-headed warbler is found inland. [10]

Both species of Cuban warbler inhabit a range of natural forest with good understory and drier scrubbier habitat, from sea-level up into the mountains of Cuba. [11] [12] The Oriente warbler is more likely to live in scrub nearer the coasts, and humid forests higher in hills and mountains. [11]


The forehead and crown of the Oriente warbler is grey, as opposed to the entirely yellow head of the yellow-headed warbler. Oriente warbler (Teretistris fornsi) - cropped.jpg
The forehead and crown of the Oriente warbler is grey, as opposed to the entirely yellow head of the yellow-headed warbler.

The Cuban warblers are around 13 cm (5.1 in) long and weigh between 6–18 g (0.21–0.63 oz). Both are similar in appearance to New World warblers, and have similar plumage to each other. They have grey backs, wings and tails, and yellow faces and throats; the Oriente warbler has a grey crown and forehead and yellow down to the upper belly, with a white lower belly and rear, and the yellow-headed had an entirely yellow head but a grey breast, belly and rear. Both species have a yellow eye-ring. [11] [12] The sexes are almost identical, but females have slightly shorter tails. The bills are robust and slightly curved, [10] and blackish-grey to grey. [11] [12]


Diet and feeding

Insects form a large part of the diet of the Cuban warblers. Stomach-content analysis of the Oriente warbler showed that beetles formed a large part of its diet, with a smaller part of its diet being composed of true bugs (Hemiptera) and moths and butterflies. Both species are also reported to take small lizards; the Oriente warbler has also been reported eating small fruit. [11] [12] The yellow-headed warbler typically feeds in the understorey and mid canopy parts of the forest, a form of niche partitioning with the olive-capped warbler which more usually forages in the higher canopy, [13] whereas the Oriente warbler feeds at higher levels in the canopy, above 5 m (16 ft) in the morning, before moving to feed closer to the ground in the evening. [11] It has been suggested that this shift may relate to the changes in temperature over the day; as the day heats up foraging birds move lower where it may be cooler. [10]

The Cuban warblers are often found in flocks of up to six birds in the non-breeding season. [11] [12] These small flocks often serve as the nucleus of mixed-species feeding flocks of native species and in particular overwintering migrants from North America. The yellow-headed warbler was found in 82% of mixed species flocks observed in its range, and the Orinete warbler in 42% of its potential flocks (although the sample size was much smaller). [14]


The nesting biology of the Cuban warblers has not been documented in detail. Both species are seasonal breeders, with a nesting season ranging from March to July and an egg-laying period from March to May. [11] [12] The nest of the Oriente warbler is a simple unlined cup constructed of small vines, roots, moss and feathers. The cup measures 40 to 55 mm (1.6–2.2 in) in diameter, and is 35 mm (1.4 in) high with a depth of 23 mm (0.91 in). Thre nests are usually placed within 1 m (3.3 ft) on a branch usually concealed among epiphytes such as Tillandsia moss or parasitic plants. [10] The nest of the yellow-headed warbler is also a cup, made of similar materials and grass, placed close to the ground in low vegetation. [12]

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  12. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Curson, J (2019). del Hoyo, Josep; Elliott, Andrew; Sargatal, Jordi; Christie, David A; de Juana, Eduardo (eds.). "Yellow-headed Warbler (Teretistris fernandinae)" . Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions. Retrieved 17 February 2019.
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  14. Hamel, Paul B.; Kirkconnell, Arturo (2005). "Composition of mixed-species flocks of migrant and resident birds in Cuba" (PDF). Cotinga. 24: 28–34.