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golden-winged warbler

Vermivora chrysoptera

What do they look like?

Adult male golden-winged warblers have grey feathers on their back and white on their belly. They also have yellow areas on their nape and in patches on their upper wing, although the rest of the wing is mostly black. Their tails are grey with white patches in the outer areas. The bill of adult golden-winged warblers is black, but it begins pink when they are juveniles. They have a black bib and eye patch separated by a white line. Their eyes are black or dark red-brown. Their legs are dark brown or grey as adults and dark pink as juveniles, with pale green feet. Unlike males, females have a grey bib and eye patches, with more yellow on their nape and belly. Juveniles are dark grey and blue, and gain the darker bib and eye patch at 18 to 19 days. Adults have a total body length of about 13 cm from head to tail and weigh about 9 g. During the spring and summer months, their body feathers and flight feathers molt and get replaced with new ones. (Confer, et al., 2011; Ficken and Ficken, 1974; Leichty and Grier, 2006)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male more colorful
  • Average mass
    9 g
    0.32 oz
  • Average length
    13 cm
    5.12 in

Where do they live?

Golden-winged warblers (Vermivora chrysoptera) are found in eastern and north-central parts of the United States and southern Canada. These birds have been seen in the Great Lakes area of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, the Cumberland Mountains in northeastern Tennessee, and the Appalachian Mountains in Kentucky, West Virginia, South Dakota, Pennsylvania, and New York. These warblers are also found in the Canadian provinces of Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. During the winter, they migrate south into Mexico, northern South America, and the Caribbean. (BirdLife International, 2012; Buehler, et al., 2007; Bulluck, et al., 2013; Confer, et al., 2011; Confer, et al., 2003; Ficken and Ficken, 1967; Ficken and Ficken, 1968a; Ficken and Ficken, 1974; Harper, et al., 2010; Klaus and Buehler, 2001; Martin, et al., 2007; Rossell, et al., 2003; Thompson, 1935)

What kind of habitat do they need?

Golden-winged warblers live in old farm fields and clearings, unused mines, woodlands, and in wetlands. They can live at several elevations from 480 to 1460m. Common vegetation found in their abandoned mine habitats include maples, oaks, yellow poplars, and blackberry trees. Old-field habitats and forests have mixtures of goldenrod, asters, and red maples. Wetlands have abundant alders, willows, and tamaracks. (BirdLife International, 2012; Buehler, et al., 2007; Bulluck and Buehler, 2008; Bulluck, et al., 2013; Confer, et al., 2011; Ficken and Ficken, 1968a; Klaus and Buehler, 2001; Martin, et al., 2007; Rossell, et al., 2003)

  • Range elevation
    480 to 1460 m
    1574.80 to 4790.03 ft

How do they reproduce?

Male golden-winged warblers arrive at the breeding grounds and pick a territory of about 1609 to 3219 m2, which is made up of mainly overgrown fields. Females arrive a day or two later, they find a mate that same day. As soon as females arrive, males are attracted by their "tzips" calls. Females take a "soliciting posture", which means they quiver their wings, raise their tail, hold their crown feathers up, and lower their breast. As soon as the day after they arrive, females start building their nest on the tree line bordering the male's territory. When a male approaches a female, females may become aggressive or non-aggressive. When the female responds aggressively to the male flying close to her, she fights, snaps, or lunges at the male. A non-aggressive female gives "tzips" calls and then leaves. Males give two flight displays near females including moth and gliding flights. In a moth flight, the male flies slowly with marked wing beats and his head held high. Gliding may happen when the male is about to chase a female. (Buehler, et al., 2007; Confer, et al., 2011; Confer, et al., 2003; Ficken and Ficken, 1968a; Ficken and Ficken, 1968b; Murray and Gill, 1976)

Golden-winged warblers breed once a year from May to June. Within days to a week of arriving on the breeding grounds, the female builds the nest with leaves and bark, and when it is complete, she lays the eggs. Eggs are incubated for 11 to 12 days, starting from the last egg laid. The young fledge in around 1 month and are mature by 10 to 12 months. The average clutch size is 3 to 6, with an average of 4.5 eggs. After the young bird fledges, the parent may feed them for up to another 31 days. (Buehler, et al., 2007; Confer, et al., 2011; Confer, et al., 2003; Klaus and Buehler, 2001)

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    Golden-winged warblers breed once yearly
  • Breeding season
    The breeding season is in May and June
  • Range eggs per season
    3 to 6
  • Range fledging age
    1 (low) months
  • Range time to independence
    2 (high) months
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    10 to 12 months
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    10 to 12 months

The female incubates the eggs for 10 to 12 days. Once the young hatch, both the female and male feed the young. Each parent helps their young with the fledging process and may feed the young up to 31 days after fledging. (Buehler, et al., 2007; Confer, et al., 2011; Confer, et al., 2003)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • male parental care
  • female parental care
  • pre-fertilization
    • protecting
      • male
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
  • post-independence association with parents

How long do they live?

The lifespan of golden-winged warblers is not well known, however their maximum lifespan may be about 7 years and 11 months. (Klimkiewicz, et al., 1983)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    7.91667 (high) years

How do they behave?

During territorial encounters, males make several different displays, this includes crown raising, tail spreading, chasing, and fighting. Male golden-winged warblers do not keep overlapping territories. Males show territorial displays when another male has mated, another male tries to use a taken territory, or when a male tries to get a female that is already taken. Males of other species may have overlapping territories but avoid each other. Golden-winged warblers have overlapping territories with blue-winged warblers. These birds also mate and form hybrids, likely because they have similar plumage and songs. Another species commonly seen with golden-winged warblers are black-capped chickadees. (Confer, et al., 2011; Ficken and Ficken, 1968a; Ficken and Ficken, 1968b; Leichty and Grier, 2006)

  • Range territory size
    4046.86 to 8093.71 m^2

Home Range

Male golden-winged warblers have territories of 4046.86 to 8093.71 square meters. (Confer, et al., 2011; Ficken and Ficken, 1968a; Ficken and Ficken, 1968b; Leichty and Grier, 2006)

How do they communicate with each other?

Golden-winged warblers have two types of songs, type I and type II. Type I is a two-syllable song with a high pitch “zee” followed by 0 to 6 “bee” notes. This song is more common and usually stays the same. Males sing type I songs to attract a mate. This is the main way females recognize their own species. Type II songs are 3 to 5 syllables ending in a “buzz” note. Males use type II songs when they are aggressively interacting with other males, during flight displays, or early in the morning before sunrise. Males and females use the call tone “tzip” to attract mates during the breeding season. (BirdLife International, 2012; Confer, et al., 2011; Ficken and Ficken, 1967; Ficken and Ficken, 1968c; Ficken and Ficken, 1974; Harper, et al., 2010; Highsmith, 1989)

What do they eat?

Golden-winged warblers eat insects. These birds rarely catch insects while they are flying; instead, they probe in trees and shrubs. Golden-winged warblers have been seen eating large numbers of moth larvae and caterpillars (Talponia plummeriana). Their probing technique works best to catch invertebrates that stay in one place like spiders and moths. They are commonly seen eating prey from black cherry, hawthorn, and apple trees. (Confer, et al., 2011; Ficken and Ficken, 1968a; Nelson, 1933)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • Plant Foods
  • fruit

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Golden-winged warbler parents have been observed carrying food down to other plant stems away from their nest to lead predators away from their young, this is also used when humans are nearby. Small mammals like eastern chipmunks or flying predators like American crows and blue jays could also be nest predators. (Buehler, et al., 2007; Bulluck and Buehler, 2008; Coker and Confer, 1990; Confer, et al., 2011; Kubel and Yahner, 2008)

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

Golden-winged warbler populations are affected by the nest parasites, brown-headed cowbirds. Brown-headed cowbirds parasitize golden-winged warbler nests by laying their eggs inside warbler nests. Female golden-winged warblers abandon their nest if it contains brown-headed cowbird young. These birds are also affected by protozoan blood parasites. (BirdLife International, 2012; Buehler, et al., 2007; Bulluck and Buehler, 2008; Bulluck, et al., 2013; Coker and Confer, 1990; Confer, et al., 2011; Confer, et al., 2003; Garvin, et al., 2006)

Commensal or parasitic species (or larger taxonomic groups) that use this species as a host
  • brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater)
  • protozoan parasite Haemoproteus

Do they cause problems?

There is no research on golden-winged warblers affecting humans negatively.

How do they interact with us?

Golden-winged warblers are often studied because they form hybrids with blue-winged warblers. This creates hybrids with different plumage, songs, courtship, and territorial behaviors. In addition, bird-watching brings money to parks, recreation areas, and local businesses. (BirdLife International, 2012; Buehler, et al., 2007; Bulluck and Buehler, 2008; Bulluck, et al., 2013; Confer, et al., 2011; Confer, 2006; Ficken and Ficken, 1967; Ficken and Ficken, 1968a; Ficken and Ficken, 1968c; Ficken and Ficken, 1968b; Gill, 1980; Hvenegaard, et al., 1989; Leichty and Grier, 2006; Murray and Gill, 1976)

  • Ways that people benefit from these animals:
  • ecotourism
  • research and education

Are they endangered?

Golden-winged warbler populations are declining throughout their range. Their decline is due to deforestation, competition and hybridization with blue-winged warblers, and nest parasitism by brown-headed cowbirds. There are a number committees that work together to help maintain golden-winged warbler populations, all of which aim to create an awareness of the population decline, manage breeding grounds and habitats, and monitor golden-winged warbler populations. (BirdLife International, 2012; Buehler, et al., 2007; Bulluck and Buehler, 2008; Bulluck, et al., 2013; Coker and Confer, 1990; Confer, et al., 2011; Confer, 2006; Confer, et al., 2003; Klaus and Buehler, 2001)

Contributors

Brandi Norris (author), Radford University, Karen Powers (editor), Radford University, Leila Siciliano Martina (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.

References

BirdLife International, 2012. "Vermivora chrysoptera" (On-line). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Accessed February 06, 2014 at http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/22721618/0.

Bode, I. 1940. Golden-winged warbler in Maine. The Auk, 57/3: 420.

Buehler, D., A. Roth, R. Vallender, T. Will, J. Confer, R. Canterbury, S. Swarthout, K. Rosenburg, L. Bulluck. 2007. Status and conservation priorities of golden-winged warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera) in North America. The Auk, 124/4: 1439-1445.

Bulluck, L., D. Buehler, R. Vallender, R. Robertson. 2013. Demographic comparison of golden-winged warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera) populations in nothern and southern extremes of their breeding range. Wilson Journal of Ornithology, 125/3: 479-490.

Bulluck, L., D. Buehler. 2008. Factors influencing golden-winged warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera) nest-site selection and nest survival in the Cumberland Mountains of Tennessee. The Auk, 125/3: 551-559.

Coker, D., J. Confer. 1990. Brown-headed cowbird parasitism on golden-winged and blue-winged warblers. The Wilson Bulletin, 102/3: 550-552.

Confer, J., L. John, P. Hartman, A. Roth. 2011. Golden-winged warbler. The Birds of North America, 020: 1. Accessed February 11, 2014 at http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/020/articles/introduction.

Confer, J. 2006. Secondary contact and introgression of golden-winged warblers (Vermivora chrysoptera): Documenting the mechanism. The Auk, 123/4: 958-961.

Confer, J., J. Larkin, P. Allen. 2003. Effects of vegetation, interspecific competition, and brood parasitism on golden-winged warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera) nesting success. The Auk, 120/1: 138-144.

Ficken, M., R. Ficken. 1968. Courtship of blue-winged warblers, golden-winged warblers, and their hybrids. The Wilson Bulletin, 80/2: 161-172.

Ficken, M., R. Ficken. 1968. Ecology of blue-winged warblers, golden-winged warblers and some other Vermivora. American Midland Naturalist, 79/2: 311-319.

Ficken, M., R. Ficken. 1974. Is the golden-winged warbler a social mimic of the black-capped chickadee?. The Wilson Bulletin, 86/4: 468-471.

Ficken, M., R. Ficken. 1967. Singing behavior of blue-winged and golden-winged warblers and their hybrids. Behaviour, 28/1/2: 149-181.

Ficken, M., R. Ficken. 1968. Territorial relationships of blue-winged warblers, golden-winged warblers and their hybrids. The Wilson Bulletin, 80/4: 442-451.

Garvin, M., C. Szell, F. Moore. 2006. Blood parasites of Nearctic-Neotropical migrant passerine birds during spring trans-Gulf migration: Impact on host body condition. The Journal of Parasitology, 92/5: 990-996.

Gill, F. 1980. Historical aspects of hybridization between blue-winged and golden-winged warblers. The Auk, 97/1: 1-18.

Harper, S., R. Vallender, R. Robertson. 2010. Male song variation and female mate choice in the golden-winged warbler. The Condor, 112/1: 105-114.

Highsmith, T. 1989. The singing behavior of golden-winged warblers. The Wilson Bulletin, 101/1: 36-50.

Hvenegaard, G., J. Butler, D. Krystofiak. 1989. Economic values of bird watching at Point Pelee National Park, Canada. Wildlife Society Bulletin, 17/4: 526-531.

Klaus, N., D. Buehler. 2001. Golden-winged warbler breeding habitat characteristics and nest success in clearcuts in the southern Appalachian Mountains. The Wilson Bulletin, 113/3: 297-301.

Klimkiewicz, K., R. Clapp, A. Futcher. 1983. Longevity records of North American birds: Remizidae through Parulinae. Journal of Field Ornithology, 54/3: 287-294.

Kubel, J., R. Yahner. 2008. Quality of anthropogenic habitats for golden-winged warblers in central Pennsylvania. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, 120/4: 801-812.

Leichty, E., J. Grier. 2006. Importance of facial pattern to sexual selection in golden-winged warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera). The Auk, 123/4: 962-966.

Martin, K., S. Lutz, M. Worland. 2007. Golden-winged warbler habitat use and abundance in northern Wisconsin. Wilson Journal of Ornithology, 119/4: 523-532.

Murray, B., F. Gill. 1976. Behavioral interactions of blue-winged and golden-winged warblers. The Wilson Bulletin, 88/2: 231-254.

Nelson, A. 1933. Golden-winged warbler feeding on larvae of Talponia plummeriana. The Auk, 50/4: 440-441.

Rossell, R., S. Patch, S. Wilds. 2003. Attributes of golden-winged warbler territories in a mountain wetland. Wildlife Society Bulletin, 31/4: 1099-1104.

Thompson, P. 1935. The golden-winged warbler in South Dakota. The Wilson Bulletin, 47: 80.

 
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Norris, B. 2014. "Vermivora chrysoptera" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed November 15, 2018 at http://www.biokids.umich.edu/accounts/Vermivora_chrysoptera/

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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