At long last, habitat protected for Puerto Rican songbird

Elfin-woods Warbler
Elfin-woods Warbler. Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Following litigation brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week designated critical habitat for the Elfin-woods Warbler. This small, black-and-white bird, found only in Puerto Rico, has lost a significant amount of habitat to urban and agricultural development. The new measure designates 27,488 acres of forested land on the island. 

“The designation is a great step in the right direction for protecting Puerto Rico’s magnificent forests, which are home to this tiny bird,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This beautiful little warbler needs a buffer against the increasing intense storms that plow through the island.”

The Elfin-woods Warbler, (Setophaga angelae), is a 5-inch bird discovered in the dwarf forests of El Yunque National Forest in the 1970s. Warblers are small, insect-eating songbirds that sing a “warbling” or trilling song. The birds are found in the forested areas on the east and west ends of Puerto Rico. 

In 2004 the Center petitioned to list the species as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. FWS had previously identified the bird as a candidate for listing in 1982 but removed it from the list in 1996 because of a lack of information. FWS again listed it as a candidate species in 1999 because of habitat loss. 

FWS finally listed the bird following a historic settlement agreement in 2011 between the Center and the Service that expedited decisions on protections for 757 species. Even though the Endangered Species Act requires that the Service concurrently designate critical habitat, it never did, and in 2019 the Center had to sue again to compel the Service to designate critical habitat for the little bird.

Thanks to the Center for Biological Diversity for providing this news.

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