Golden-winged Warbler Conservation

The golden-winged warbler is a Neotropical migratory songbird that arrives in Pennsylvania’s Central Appalachian forests in late April/early May and breeds throughout the summer before making its long flight back to Central and South America for the winter. Populations of this species have experienced a steady decline in the past few decades due to habitat loss and hybridization with the closely related blue-winged warbler where ranges overlap.

The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy is partnering with private landowners, state land managers, and academic researchers to promote conservation practices that will lead to the golden-winged warbler’s recovery. Successful recovery of golden-winged warblers in Pennsylvania will require protection of critical breeding habitats, active habitat management to maintain early successional conditions, and population monitoring.

male golden-winged warbler on branch

Natural History and Ecology

The insect-like sound of “bee bzz-bzz-bzz” cutting through the damp air on an early May morning in central Pennsylvania is the song of a territorial male golden-winged warbler (Vermivora chysoptera). Likely perched on a tall oak at the edge of a high elevation (above 900 feet) shrubland in the Appalachian Mountains is a tiny wood-warbler that sports a bright golden cap and wing bars on a subdued background of gray, black, and white plumage. As a Neotropical migrant, the golden-winged warbler travels thousands of miles each spring from its winter home in the forests of Central and South America, often returning to the same habitat patch in North America where it nested the year before.

From Wisconsin east across the Great Lakes region and from New England south through the Appalachians to Georgia, this bird is a habitat specialist that nests in early successional habitats surrounded by forested landscapes. These shrublands take the form of old fields, scrub oak barrens, shrub swamps, reclaimed surface mines, and forests regenerating from timber harvest. Recent studies in Pennsylvania showed that characteristics of critical nesting habitat include herbaceous ground cover, like grasses and goldenrod, proximity to dense shrubs or saplings, and availability of taller trees for singing perches. While nests are often well-hidden in clumps of grassy vegetation near the ground, dense thickets of blackberry or hardwood saplings provide places where golden-winged warblers can forage for moth larvae during the breeding season to meet the demands of hungry broods.

golden-winged warbler habitat

Photo credits:

Golden-winged warbler: Mikey Lutmerding

Golden-winged warbler habitat: Katie Percy