Golden-winged Warbler Working Group

Conservation

Volcán Arenal, Costa Rica

About Golden-winged Warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera)

Ecology

For general information about Golden-winged Warbler life history, please visit Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds and The American Bird Conservancy’s species accounts. 

Range and Abundance

For detailed information about Golden-winged Warbler range, abundance, and timing of movements, please visit Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s eBird Status and Trends page.

Conservation Status

Legal Status

Golden-winged Warbler (GWWA) is one of the highest conservation priorities of all forest birds in the United States, and fifteen State Wildlife Action Plans include it as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need. GWWA is currently under review for Endangered Species Act protection by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and is in the USFWS Focal Species Strategy program. The USFWS also lists GWWA as a bird of Conservation Concern at the national level, and at various regional scales (USFWS Regions 3, 4, 5; Bird Conservation Regions 12, 13, 23, 28). The species is state-listed as Endangered in Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, plus Ohio, and is considered Threatened in Kentucky. Like most US songbirds, GWWA is protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

Current Golden-winged Warbler Range

In Canada, GWWA is a threatened species under Schedule 1 of Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA) and protected by the Migratory Bird Convention Act of 1994. Under provincial species at risk legislation, GWWA is designated as Special Concern in Ontario, and Likely to be Designated as Threatened or Vulnerable in Quebec.

Other Designations

  • Near Threatened by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
  • Audubon Society Watchlist of Birds on Conservation Concern
  • Partners in Flight Watch List Species in Need of Immediate Action

Great Lakes
Appalachians

Migratory Range
Winter Range

Full annual range for Golden-winged Warbler spanning from northern South America to Manitoba, east to Ontario and Vermont. The Appalachian population is highlighted in red, while the Great Lakes population is highlighted in green. The migratory range is highlighted in yellow and wintering range is highlighted in blue.

Breeding Population Trends and Estimates

Tracking Population Change

The USGS Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) is the most comprehensive monitoring program tracking Golden-winged Warbler population change rangewide. Because the BBS is a roadside survey, however, it may not adequately monitor response to changing conditions across all habitat types in North America—particularly if higher probability of land development results in disproportionately greater habitat loss along roadsides.The BBS trend data for the northern states and provinces has deficiencies, and the survey no longer detects GWWA in most of the Appalachians.

Estimating Population Size

Although the BBS was designed to index population trend and not to estimate actual abundance, Partners in Flight collaborated with over a hundred ornithologists to devise a standardized method to use BBS data from the 1990s to estimate current population size of Golden-winged Warblers at multiple geographic scales. 

Hover over each state or province to view the latest population trends¹ and estimates². Note that other sources of population estimates indicate small numbers of GWWA in some states with zero birds in the Partners in Flight database.

United States

330,000 birds • -2.1% annual change • 84% of global population

Canada

63,000 birds • +1.3% annual change • 16% of global population

1 USGS Breeding Bird Survey: Pardieck, K.L., Ziolkowski Jr., D.J., Lutmerding, M., Aponte, V.I., and Hudson, M-A.R., 2020, North American Breeding Bird Survey Dataset 1966 -2019: U.S. Geological Survey data release.

2 Partners in Flight Population Estimate Database: Will, T., J.C. Stanton, K.V. Rosenberg, A.O. Panjabi, A.F. Camfield, A.E. Shaw, W.E. Thogmartin, and P.J. Blancher. 2020. Handbook to the Partners in Flight Population Estimates Database, Version 3.1.

Primary Threats

Golden-winged Warbler declines are attributed to a variety of sources, including loss of breeding season habitat, hybridization with Blue-winged Warbler, and land use changes on the Neotropical wintering grounds. All of these threats, likely contribute to population-level declines, and the relative impact of each as a limiting factor remains unclear. Threats to the species appear to vary considerably across regions, although loss of early successional habitat has been identified as the primary threat on the  breeding grounds, compounded in some areas by hybridization with Blue-winged Warbler.

A bulldozer parked by a pile of dirt with a eastern forest in the background.

Land development and forest maturation of early successional breeding habitat is a primary contributor to  Golden-winged Warbler declines.  MORE INFO

Slash and burn clearing in a tropical forest. Ruth Bennett

Clearing of mid-elevation forest in the wintering range, and degradation of migratory stopover sites are  associated with Golden-winged Warbler declines.  MORE INFO

 


Photo: Slash and burn clearing of wintering habitat in Nicaragua. Ruth Bennett

A hybrid Vermivora warbler of the Brewster's phenotype. Photo Kurt Ongman

Replacement by Blue-winged Warblers has occurred in many areas of the historic Golden-winged breeding range. In addition to competing for resources, Golden-winged and Blue-winged Warbler hybridize to produce viable offspring, causing genetic dilution. 

Photo: “Brewster’s” Warbler (Golden-winged x Blue-winged Warbler hybrid). Kurt Ongman

A guyed communication tower.

Golden-winged Warbler are highly susceptible to collisions with communication towers during migration (especially guyed towers) , and windows. Collisions with window glass is the second greatest threat to songbirds in the U.S. MORE INFO

A gray striped cat with green eyes sits poised in the stalking position.

Though the direct impact of cats on GWWA populations has never been fully assessed, predation by outdoor cats is the single greatest threat to songbirds in the United States and Canada. MORE INFO

An overhead view of a factory emitting gasses into the atmosphere.

Climate change is thought to intensify other threats to Golden-winged Warbler. Predictive climate models indicate that temperature increases could alter plant composition, insect populations, and the distribution of Golden-winged Warbler.
MORE INFO

Breeding habitat with two interestingly shaped dead trees leaning above early-succesional shrubland. Photo John Confer

Conservation by Land Trusts

Land trusts and private conservation organizations provide critical contributions to conserving birds by protecting undeveloped habitat for Golden-winged Warbler and hundreds of other bird species. Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Land Trust Bird Conservation Initiative is a strategic and coordinated effort to maximize the benefits of land trusts and birds.

To learn more about Land Trust Bird Conservation, visit Cornell Lab’s Land Trust website.

To read about the success of the Land Trust Bird Conservation Initiative, visit the Success Stories page.

Conservation Investment Strategies

Coming soon!

The Power of Partnerships

A caballero holds a male Golden-winged Warbler. Photo: Ruth Bennett

Our Working Group is a network of biologists, landowners, and conservationists striving to ensure healthy Golden-winged Warbler populations and habitats into the future. Developing strong partnerships to share the latest science and management techniques is at the core of our organization.

Visit our projects page to learn how different Working Group projects are helping conserve Golden-winged Warbler.