Developing a Conservation Strategy for the Golden-winged Warbler
in the Cumberland Mountains of Tennessee

David Buehler, Lesley Bullock, Kelly Caruso, Katie Percy


The Cumberland Mountains in northeastern Tennessee extend south from the central Appalachian Mountains in Kentucky, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, and are located near the southern extreme of the Golden-winged Warbler’s breeding range.  We have estimated that a population of 370 pairs of Golden-winged Warblers breeds in the Cumberland Mountains.  In this region, Golden-winged Warblers primarily occupy reclaimed coal surface-mines, which provide a patchy configuration of early-successional habitat in a mature forest matrix that mimics the effects of natural disturbance.  Of the 8,000 ha of reclaimed coal surface-mine habitat in the Cumberland Mountains, 600 ha are under experimental management for GWWAs.  

Study of Golden-winged Warblers in Tennessee began in April 2003, with population monitoring occurring every year since its initiation.  Monitoring actions include behavioral observations, territory mapping, nest searching, extensive vegetation surveys and the use of color-banding to determine site characteristics associated with pairing success, breeding success and return rates.  Additionally, our research team will continue to contribute blood samples for the range-wide Genetic Atlas Project. 
Our study sites are located within the North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area (WMA), which is publicly owned and managed by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.  Since coal surface-mine reclamation on the study sites, Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), maples (Acer spp.), Yellow Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), oaks (Quercus spp.), thickets of blackberry (Rubus spp.) and an herbaceous layer of forbs and grasses have become established.  Prescribed burning, mechanical removal of woody tree species, seeding with native warm season grasses and forbs, and herbicide treatment of non-native vegetation is being used to restore, enhance, and maintain this early successional habitat on surface-mined land in the North Cumberland WMA.  Preliminary data show a strong positive response of Golden-winged Warbler populations to prescribed burning.  With the assistance of local state and federal agencies, we have developed plans to continue prescribed burning at selected study sites throughout the Cumberland Mountain region.  We will continue to monitor the response of Golden-winged Warbler populations over the coming years. 

Support for the project has been provided by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, University of Tennessee, Tennessee Ornithological Society, The Nature Conservancy, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Garden Club of America.