Shrub-Loving Warblers

The males of this small warbler species have striking yellow, black, and white plumage. In the Northeast, the golden-winged warbler breeds in western Vermont, parts of New York, and the Appalachian Mountains in the Mid-Atlantic region. (The largest remaining population is in the Great Lakes states.)

Male golden-winged warbler.
Mike Cong
A biologist prepares to band a male golden-winged warbler.

In spring and summer, golden-winged warblers nest on the ground in old fields thick with grasses, sedges, weeds, and shrubs. They also breed on recently logged lands where small trees grow back densely.

From Shrubland to Mature Forest

After fledglings leave the nest, their parents take them to mature forest habitats – a reversal of what many songbirds do, and a great example of why wildlife needs a range of different-aged woodlands.

A Steep Population Decline

Over the past four decades, the golden-winged warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera) has suffered one of the steepest population declines of any North American songbird. The problem stems from habitat loss caused by shrubby fields growing up and becoming mature forest. Also, golden-winged warblers often hybridize with closely related blue-winged warblers (Vermivora cyanoptera), which scientists believe has contributed to the decline in golden-winged warbler numbers.

Learn more about the golden-winged warbler's range, biology, and behavior at Cornell Lab's All About Birds.

Clump of gray dogwood used by golden-winged warblers.
Audubon Vermont
This clump of gray dogwood provides excellent breeding habitat for golden-winged warblers.

The Golden-Winged Warbler Working Group has developed a 216-page Status Review and Conservation Plan aimed at increasing the population 50 percent by 2050.

Making and Refreshing Habitat

Habitats used by golden-winged warblers can be created or refreshed through prescribed burning or a timber harvest that leaves a few trees standing. Conservationists can also manage areas of native shrubs by removing trees before they get too big and begin shading out the shrubs and other low plants.

Best Management Practices explain how to tailor different types of habitats to deliver the greatest benefits to golden-winged warblers.

Audubon Vermont and The Nature Conservancy are working at Helen W. Buckner Memorial Preserve to provide a sustainable habitat for a local population of golden-winged warblers.