a web page by Don Roberson
CUBAN WARBLERS Teretristidae
  • 2 species endemic to Cuba
  • DR personal total: 2 species (100%), 2 photo'd

The Cuban Warblers [Teretristidae] are two species of warbler-like birds endemic to Cuba. Recent molecular evidence has provided evidence that these two are not closely related the New World Warblers [Parulidae] but are, instead, a remnant of an evolutionary line now isolated in Cuba. Oriente Warbler (left) is the scarcer of the two species, being restricted to the eastern end of Cuba. It is generally restricted to occur in scrubby undergrowth, usually semi-arid scrub near the coast (this photo) or in the understory humid forests in the eastern mountains.

In 2002, Lovette & Bermingham conducted a molecular study of the genera assigned to the New World Warblers [Parulidae] and found six that did not appear to share the same common ancestor. These included the Wrenthrush [Zeledonia] of Central America, and a number of Caribbean genera, include the Cuban warbler genera Teretristris. Barker et al. (2012) used both nuclear and mtDNA to construct a phylogeny of New World nine-primaried passerines. They found that Zeledonia and Teretristris had become evolutionarily distinct about 12 million years ago, and might be each other's closest relative. There was some evidence that Yellow-breasted Chat Icteria virens might also be related, but other evidence pointed against that.

In the "big picture" it looked like Wrenthrush and Cuban warblers fell somewhere between Parulidae and Icteridae. From these data, Barker et al. (2013) proposed that Wrenthrush be assigned to its own family [Zeledoniidae] and that the two Cuban warblers be assigned to their own family [Teretristidae]. This proposal has been adopted by some (e.g., Winkler et al. 2015) but I've dithered about what to do with all this information. The Howard & Moore checklist, 4th ed. [Dickinson & Christidis 2014] placed both Zeledonia and Teretristris in the same new Zeledoniidae family. I did so initially but now, having seen both Cuban warblers in the field, see vast behavioral differences between Wrenthrush and Cuban warblers. I now follow Winkler et al. (2015) in elevating the Teretristidae to Family status. Still, at a divergence age of 12 mya, this is the "youngest" bird family in my project.

The more widespread species in the western end of Cuba is Yellow-headed Warbler (right, in a nice shot by Dan Singer, taken in western Cuba). Both Yellow-headed and Oriente Warblers are long-billed species. The plumage of Oriente Warbler differs in having a gray crown and yellow restricted to throat and breast. It is said (e.g., Curson 2010) that Yellow-headed Warbler is also an understory species — and it is sometimes found there — but in our visit to western and central Cuba, we found it at all levels in the forest, from mid-levels ito the canopy of taller forest. My photo of Yellow-headed Warbler was in a tidal mangrove forest in Zapata Swamp (below).

Outside the breeding season both species of Cuban warblers may act as the nucleus of mixed-species flocks (Curson 2010).


Photos: The Oriente Warbler Teretistris fornsi was at Faro Paredon in the coastal cays of northeast Cuba on 11 Feb 2017. Dan Singer shot the Yellow-headed Warbler Teretistris fernandinae in Pinar del Rio Province, Cuba, on 4 Nov 2008; my photo of Yellow-headed Warbler is from the Zapata Swamp, Cuba, on 7 Feb 2017.

Photos © Don Roberson and Dan Singer, as credited, and used with permission; all rights reserved.

Bibliographic note: There is no "family book" per se, but an introduction to the birds in this tentative family is in Curson (2010).

Literature cited:

Barker, F.K., K.J. Burns, J. Klicka, S.M. Lanyon, and I.J. Lovette. 2013. Going to extremes: contrasting rates of diversification in a recent radiation of New World passerine birds. Syst. Biol. 62: 298–320.

Curson, J.M. 2010. Family Parulidae (New World Warblers), pp. 666 –800 in Handbook of the Birds of the World (del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott & D.A. Christie, eds). Vol. 15. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

Dickinson, E.C., and L. Christidis. 2014. The Howard and Moore Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World: Passerines Vol. 2. Aves Press, Eastbourne, U.K.

Lovette, I.J., and E. Bermingham. 2002. What is a wood-warbler? Molecular characterization of a monophyletic Parulidae. Auk 118: 695–714.

Winkler, D.W., S.W. Billerman, and I.J. Lovette. 2015. Birds Families of the World: A Guide to the Spectacular Diversity of Birds. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.




  page created 25 May 2016, revised 14 June 2017  
all text & photos © Don Roberson, except as otherwise indicated; all rights reserved