Competition with blue-winged warblers is implicated in the decline of the golden-winged warbler. Historically, blue-wings were distributed primarily west of the Appalachian Mountains but have expanded northward and eastward since the late 1800s (Gill 1980). Blue-wing breeding records for Virginia date back to 1880 in or near Washington D.C. (Rives 1890). Gill (1980) speculates that their establishment in western Virginia first took place in the 1950s. Since their arrival in Virginia, blue-wings have broadened their range to where they now overlap considerably with the distribution of golden-wings (Wilson et al. 2007). However, the two species still show geographic differences in their relative abundance. Whereas Highland and Bath counties are considered population centers for golden-wings, the greatest known concentration of blue-wings currently occurs in a 5-county area in southwestern Virginia that includes Buchanan, Dickenson, Wise, Russell and Tazewell (Wilson et al. 2007). Across the broader Virginia landscape, however, blue-wings appear to outnumber the historically more common golden-wings (Wilson et al. 2007). Virginia blue-wings and golden-wings currently overlap broadly in elevation, whereas historically blue-wings occurred at lower elevations, contributing to reproductive separation between the species (Wilson et al. 2007). Confer et al. (2011) report that golden-wing extirpations subsequent to the arrival of blue-wings have occurred throughout much of their range. This may have and may still be occurring at the local level in Virginia, although it is unclear whether it is playing a direct role in the overall declines of golden-wings in the Commonwealth.
Golden-winged Warbler banner image by Bill Hubick