West Virginia University, USGS West Virginia Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit
Kyle Aldinger, Petra Wood

Golden-winged Warbler research through West Virginia University and the USGS West Virginia Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit aims to understand the ecology and response to management of Golden-winged Warblers on some of Monongahela National Forest’s active grazing allotments.  Study areas in Randolph and Pocahontas Counties are lightly grazed from May to October each year, effectively maintaining the complex matrix of grasses, herbaceous vegetation, blackberry, shrubs, and scattered trees necessary for Golden-winged Warblers to breed.  The sites are unique in that they provide an opportunity for positive cooperation between the Forest Service, the local community (farmers interested in grazing livestock), and researchers.  Perhaps of even greater importance, especially for those interested in Golden-winged Warbler conservation, these sites are located high in the mountains (800-1,200 meters), allowing Golden-winged Warblers to exist in isolation from Blue-winged Warblers.  In the fall of 2008, three study sites were treated with brush-hogging and light tree harvest as part of a collaborative effort by the Golden-winged Warbler Working Group to examine the response of the focal species to various management scenarios.  Pre- and post-treatment data were collected on Golden-winged Warbler productivity, territory density, return rates, habitat characteristics, associated species, and even responsiveness to conspecific song playback.  We also began monitoring populations of game bird species, including American Woodcock, Northern Bobwhite, Ruffed Grouse, and Wild Turkey, which use this habitat.

Out of 21 nests located in 2008-2009, 11 were successful, 3 abandoned, and 7 predated.  There were no Brown-headed Cowbird eggs in any of the nests.  On average, clutch size was 4.4 eggs and 4.0 young were fledged per nest.  Of 33 individuals banded in 2008 (13 males, 5 females, and 15 nestlings), 54% of males, 100% of females, and 20% of nestlings were relocated on the study area in 2009.  Twenty-five males, 6 females, and 32 nestlings were banded in 2009.  The grazing allotments may represent a valuable resource for the persistence and study of Golden-winged Warbler populations, as there were no Blue-winged Warbler territories and only one hybrid both years.  WVU and the USGS WVCFWRU will continue to study populations of Golden-winged Warblers on high-elevation grazing allotments on Monongahela National Forest to better understand how the species will respond to management.  Results will guide decisions about future conservation action for Golden-winged Warblers.  Research here in the Mountain State is supported by West Virginia DNR, US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Forest Service, and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.