The elfin-woods warbler is not the only Puerto Rican candidate suffering from lengthy bureaucratic listing delays. Five others are currently on the candidate list: the Mona cave shrimp, Calliandra locoensis, Calyptranthes estremerae, Puerto Rico manjack, Island brittleleaf. On average, they have spent 19 years on the list without protection.
First placed on the candidate list: 1982
Years waiting for protection: 22
Range: Puerto Rico
Habitat: windswept mountain forests

The Elfin-woods warbler is a striking black and white songbird from the mountains of Puerto Rico. It was placed on the federal candidate list for Endangered Species Act protection in 1982. During its 22 year wait for protection, the warbler has suffered habitat loss and fragmentation due to logging, coffee plantations, roads, and telecommunications towers. It is presumed to have been widely distributed across Puerto Rico, but is now found only in four scattered populations.

Two other Caribbean species paid the ultimate price for bureaucratic listing delays. The mottled coqui frog (Eleutherodactylus eneidae) inhabited the forested interior uplands of Puerto Rico. It went extinct in 1990 while waiting unprotected on the candidate list. The Virgin Islands screech owl (Otus nudipes newtoni) lived in the U.S. Virgin Islands immediately east of Puerto Rico. Acknowledging its slide toward extinction, the U.S. Department of Interior placed it on the C.I.T.E.S. list in 1975. This protected it from international trade, but not habitat loss or take, and did require initiation of a recovery plan, critical habitat, or other conservation efforts. It went extinct in 1980 and was placed on the candidate list two years later.

Primarily found in the Caribbean National Forest and the Maricao Commonwealth Forest, the species derives its name from the short forests which cap Puerto Rico's windblown mountain tops. Thriving in rainy, cold and windy conditions, the elfin-woods warbler gleans insects from leaves, conceals its nest close to tree trunks, and appears to migrate to lower elevation forests on a seasonal basis.

The fragmentation of the warbler's habitats makes it vulnerable to natural events such as Hurricane Hugo which in 1989 may have wiped out one of the four known populations. In addition, non-native rats have followed human development on Puerto Rico and may be raiding warbler nests as they do on other islands.

graphic Andrew Rodman ©2002
May 2, 2004
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