Golden-winged Warbler


Open habitat patch in Highland County by Patti Reum

Although the majority of known golden-winged warbler occurrences in Virginia are on private lands, the species is also documented on public lands. These include current and historic areas within the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest; as well as DGIF Wildlife Management Areas (Gathright, Crooked Creek, Clinch Mountain); and, historically, Shenandoah National Park.

The golden-winged warbler's distribution in Virginia appears to be contracting, and Breeding Bird Forays by the Virginia Society of Ornithology suggest the probability of local declines. The most direct evidence of declines in the Virginia golden-wing population, however, comes from the North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS). The BBS has documented annual Virginia declines of 11.6% between 1966 and 2007 (Sauer et al. 2008). Due to its low numbers and patchy distribution, golden-wings are no longer regularly detected along BBS routes.

Population declines of the species are believed to be largely associated with habitat loss. Golden-wings are dependent on open, shrubby habitats which are ephemeral by their very nature. Factors contributing to habitat reductions across the species' range are also at work in Virginia. These include reforestation, fire suppression, reduced timber harvest, urban sprawl, and reduced acreage of recently abandoned farmland (Confer et al. 2011). What suitable mid- to high-elevation habitat remains is not evenly distributed across the Virginia landscape. A large concentration of this type of habitat is found in Bath and Highland counties, which in turn support a large percentage of the Virginia golden-wing population (Wilson et al. 2007). The landscape there is 80-95% forested with suitable, moderate- to high-elevation habitat in the form of pasture and idle farmland (Wilson et al. 2007). Habitat may in fact not be a limiting factor in these counties as in other parts of the species' range: a recent study focused on Bath and Highland counties documented suitable habitat that remains unoccupied by golden-wings (Bulluck and Harding 2010).

Golden-winged Warbler banner image by Bill Hubick