A rare and relatively little known bird (4), the white-winged warbler (Xenoligea montana) is endemic to Hispaniola (3) (4). This species is a small, robust bird with a thick, heavy bill and a fairly long tail (2) (4) (5). It has olive-green upperparts which contrast sharply with its grey head and nape. The underparts are white, with a greyish wash to the breast and the flanks (2) (3) (4) (5).
As its common name suggests, the white-winged warbler has a distinctive white patch on its wings, as well as conspicuous white spots on the outer tail feathers and a prominent white stripe between the eye and the bill. It also has narrow white crescents above and below the eyes, contrasting with the black face (2) (3) (4). The ear-coverts are faintly streaked with white (4).
The wings of the white-winged warbler are mostly black or dark grey (3) (4) (5), except for the distinguishing patches formed by the white-edged primaries and the green colouration on the secondary and tertial wing feathers (4). The adult white-winged warbler has a dark iris, a blue-grey to blackish bill, and dark legs (3) (4). Both the male and female white-winged warbler are very similar in appearance (3).
Juvenile white-winged warblers have a more brownish tone than their adult counterparts, with the head and nape being brownish-grey and the upperparts greyish to olive-brown. The underparts of the juvenile white-winged warbler are whitish and tinged with brown (3) (6).
The song of the white-winged warbler is a short, accelerating series of high-pitched, squeaky notes. Its calls include a thin, low-pitched ‘tseep’, as well as a low chattering ‘suit..suit..suit..chir..suit..suit..suit..suit..chir..chi’ (2) (3) (4) (5).
The only member of the genus Xenoligea (3) (5) (7), the white-winged warbler has a complicated taxonomic history. Confusingly, genetic evidence has shown that this species is actually more closely related to Hispaniolan tanagers (Phaenicophilus) than to other warbler species (3) (4) (6) (7), hence its alternative name, the Hispaniolan highland-tanager (5).
- Also known as
- White-winged ground-warbler.
- Length: up to 14.5 cm (2)
- 12 - 13 g (3)
White-winged warbler biology
An active forager, the white-winged warbler feeds on a variety of insects and other arthropods, as well as a high proportion of seeds, particularly those of the Florida trema (Trema micrantha) (2) (3) (4). It is typically found foraging in small groups of between two and four individuals, or in mixed species flocks (3) (4) with green-tailed warblers (Microligea palustris), black-crowned palm tanagers (Phaenicophilus palmarum) and Hispaniolan spindalis (Spindalis dominicensis) (3).
The white-winged warbler is thought to nest between April and July, but the exact timing of breeding remains unknown (2) (3) (4) (6). Only one nest has ever been described for this species. Based on this single observation, it is thought that the nest of the white-winged warbler is likely to be an open cup-shaped structure composed of moss, small stems, leaf fragments, lichens and other plant material, probably placed slightly off the ground in a dense thicket of vines or other suitable vegetation (3) (6).
Although very little else is known about the breeding biology of this species, the white-winged warbler is thought to produce a clutch of two pale greenish, oval-shaped eggs that have reddish-brown markings (3) (6).
White-winged warbler range
The white-winged warbler is endemic to montane regions of Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic) (3).
Historically, the white-winged warbler is known from the Massif de la Hotte and Massif de la Selle in Haiti, and the Sierra de Baoruco, Sierra de Neiba and the Cordillera Central in the Dominican Republic (2) (3) (5) (6). However, this species’ population is declining across its range, and recent records suggest that it is no longer present in the Massif de la Selle, Haiti (2) (3).
White-winged warbler habitat
Restricted to moist montane forests, the white-winged warbler typically inhabits the dense understory in stands of broadleaf forest, or mixed forests containing broadleaf vegetation and pines (2) (3). It generally occurs in humid areas where there are plenty of low trees, open or scrubby thickets and shrubbery (2) (3) (4) (5), and it is also known to occur in wet karst limestone forests (3).
The white-winged warbler is mostly found at elevations between 1,300 and 1,800 metres, although it is also known to occur at elevations as low as 875 metres and in high-elevation forests up to 2,000 metres above sea level (2) (3).
White-winged warbler status
The white-winged warbler is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).
White-winged warbler threats
Habitat loss is probably the main driving force behind the decline of the white-winged warbler. Throughout Hispaniola, montane forests have been destroyed to make way for agriculture and timber production, and this large-scale deforestation continues to be a threat to many of the region’s endemic bird species. The extent of this deforestation, particularly in Haiti, is likely to have contributed to the complete loss of the white-winged warbler from large parts of its historical range (2) (3).
The white-winged warbler is also under threat from introduced invasive mammals, such as mongooses, which are known to predate the nests of this species (2) (3).
White-winged warbler conservation
The white-winged warbler is one of Hispaniola’s most endangered birds (6). It is known to occur in a number of protected areas, including Pic Maya in Haiti and the Sierra de Baoruco and Armando Bermudez National Parks in the Dominican Republic. It formerly occurred in La Visite National Park in Haiti, although its presence there is now uncertain (2).
Recommended measures for conserving the white-winged warbler include ensuring that the protected areas network provides adequate protection for this species and its habitat, with better enforcement particularly being needed to protect habitat within Sierra de Baoruco National Park (2). Areas with a high abundance of white-winged warblers should be identified and protected where possible, while restoration of degraded montane forest areas is desperately needed to aid this species’ recovery (3).
Very little is known about the ecology of this species and so further research is required to assess the status of its population and any factors that may limit it. Studies are needed to determine the white-winged warbler’s habitat requirements (2) (3), and understanding its breeding biology is fundamental to conserving the remaining population (2) (3) (6).
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- A major grouping of animals that includes crustaceans, insects and arachnids. All arthropods have paired jointed limbs and a hard external skeleton (exoskeleton).
- The circle of small feathers covering the ear opening of a bird. Also called auriculars.
- A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
- A category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ Latin species name; the second part is the specific name.
- Karst limestone
- An area of irregular limestone in which erosion has produced fissures, sinkholes, underground streams, and caverns.
- A composite organism made up of a fungus in a co-operative partnership with an alga. Owing to this partnership, lichens can thrive in harsh environments such as mountaintops and polar regions. Characteristically forms a crustlike or branching growth on rocks or tree trunks.
- Montane forest
- Forest occurring in mountains.
- The back of the neck.
- Primary feathers
- The main flight feathers projecting along the outer edge of a bird’s wing.
- Secondary feathers
- The shorter flight feathers projecting along the inner edge of a bird’s wing.
- Relating to taxonomy, the science of classifying organisms, grouping together animals which share common features and are thought to have a common ancestor.
- Flight feathers attached to the upper arm (humerus) of the wing.
IUCN Red List (May, 2012)
BirdLife International (May, 2012)
Hart, J. and Rimmer, C. (2012) White-winged warbler (Xenoligea montana). In: Schulenberg, T.S. (Ed.) Neotropical Birds Online. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca. Available at:
Curson, J., Quinn, D. and Beadle, D. (2010) New World Warblers (Digital Edition). Christopher Helm Publishers, London.
Latta, S., Rimmer, C., Keith, A. and Wiley, J. (2006) Birds of the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Princeton University Press, Princeton.
Rimmer, C.C., Woolaver, L.G., Nicols, R.K., Fernández, E.M., Latta, S.C. and Garrido, E. (2008) First description of nests and eggs of two Hispaniolan endemic species: western chat-tanager (Calyptophilus tertius) and Hispaniolan highland-tanager (Xenoligea montana). The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, 120(1): 190-195.
Lovette, I.J. and Bermingam, E. (2002) What is a wood-warbler? Molecular characterization of a monophyletic Parulidae. The Auk, 119(3): 695-714.