Vermivora chrysopteragolden-winged warbler

Geographic Range

Golden-winged warblers (Vermivora chrysoptera) are a Nearctic-Neotropical migrant found in eastern and north-central parts of the United States and southern Canada. These birds have been documented in the Great Lakes region 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)


Golden-winged warblers live in abandoned agricultural fields and clearings, deserted mines, deciduous woodlands, old-field vegetation with dispersed shrubs and trees, and in wetlands. They inhabit elevations ranging from 480 to 1460m. Common vegetation found in their abandoned mine habitats include maples, oaks, yellow poplars, and blackberry trees. Old-field habitats and deciduous forests are dominated by 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

Physical Description

The common plumage of adult male golden-winged warblers is grey on the dorsal side and white on the ventral side of the body. Yellow can be found on the nape and in patches on the upper wing. Black feathers are prevalant down the wing. Male and female wing chords are between 5.49 and 6.3cm. The wings contain 9 primaries, 9 secondaries with 3 tertials, and 12 retrices in the tail. Their tails are grey with white patches on the outer retrices. The bill of adult golden-winged warblers is black, but it is pink when they are juveniles. They have a black bib and eye patch separated by a white line. Their eye color is black or dark red-brown. Their legs are dark brown or grey as adults and dark pink as juveniles, with pale green feet. Females differ from males as they have a grey bib and eye patches, with more distinctive yellow on the nape and the ventral side. Juveniles are dark grey and blue, gaining the darker bib and eye patch at 18 to 19 days. The total length from head to tail averages 13 cm for adults. Adults weigh an average of 9 g. During the spring and summer months, the feathers of the body and the 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


Male golden-winged warblers arrive at the breeding grounds and select a territory of about 1609 to 3219 m2 that mainly consists of overgrown fields. Females arrive a day or two later, they find a mate that same day and remain monogamous once mated. As soon as females arrive, males are attracted by their "tzips" calls. Females take a soliciting posture, which is defined by quivering wings, raised tail, erected crown feathers, and lowered breast. As soon as the day after their arrival, females start building their nest on the tree line bordering the male's territory. When a male approaches a female, the encounter can be aggressive or non-aggressive. When the female responds aggressively to the male flying close to her, she fights, snaps, or lunges at the male. Alternately, a non-aggressive female would give "tzips" calls and then leave. Males practice 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 can occur 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)

The breeding season of golden-winged warblers is once a year from May to June, totaling six weeks. 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 sexually mature by 10 to 12 months. The average clutch size is 3 to 6, with a mean of 4.5 eggs. After the young bird fledges, the parent may feed them for up to an additional 31 days. (Buehler, et al., 2007; Confer, et al., 2011; Confer, et al., 2003; Klaus and Buehler, 2001)

  • Breeding interval
    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


The lifespan of golden-winged warblers is poorly recorded. According to Klimkiewicz et al (1983) the maximum lifespan of a wild golden-winged warbler is 7 years and 11 months. (Klimkiewicz, et al., 1983)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    7.91667 (high) years


Males have territorial encounters where different displays and actions take place. This includes crown raising, tail spreading, chasing, and fighting. Interspecific males do not have overlapping territories. Males only show defensive 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. Intraspecific males have overlapping territories but avoid each other. Golden-winged warblers have overlapping territories with blue-winged warblers and hybridize due to their similar plumage and song. 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)

Communication and Perception

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 has little variation. Males sing type I songs to attract a mate. This is the main way females recognize members of the same 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 the opposite sex 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)

Food Habits

Golden-winged warblers are insectivores that rarely take insects in flight. Instead, they probe in trees and shrubs. One field observation from 1933 reported a warbler consuming large numbers of torticid moth larvae or caterpillars (Talponia plummeriana). Additionally, other sources suggest these caterpillars play an important role in the seasonal diet of these birds. Their use of probing is most efficient for obtaining stationary invertebrates like spiders and moths. They commonly eat prey from black cherry, hawthorn, and apple trees. (Confer, et al., 2011; Ficken and Ficken, 1968a; Nelson, 1933)

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


Golden-winged warbler parents use a hoax to protect their young from predators. Adults feeding nestlings have been observed carrying food down to other plant stems away from the nest as a decoy when humans are nearby. Kubel and Yahner (2008) suggested that 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)

Ecosystem Roles

Golden-winged warbler populations are affected by the nest parasites, brown-headed cowbirds. Female golden-winged warblers abandon their nest if it contains brown-headed cowbird young. These birds are also affected by protozoan blood parasites in genus Haemoproteus. (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/Parasitic Species
  • brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater)
  • protozoan parasite Haemoproteus

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Golden-winged warblers are a popular bird for researching hybridization. Golden-winged warblers breed with blue-winged warblers, which creates hybrids with different plumage, songs, courtship, and territorial behaviors. In addition, according to Hvenegaard et al. (1989), bird-watching is economically beneficial 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)

  • Positive Impacts
  • ecotourism
  • research and education

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

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

Conservation Status

Golden-winged warbler populations are steadily declining throughout their geographic range. Their decline is due to deforestation, competition and hybridization with blue-winged warblers, and nest parasitism by brown-headed cowbirds. Buehler et al. (2007) listed committees that work together to help maintain golden-winged warbler populations. Research and Monitoring Committee aims to make suitable habitats for populations. The Golden-winged Warbler Working Group aims to increase awareness of the declining populations by making conservation plans and managing the breeding grounds. Breeding Grounds Management Committee aims to protect the wetland habitats, create awareness, and maintain habitats through methods such as controlled burning. They also suggest that brown-headed cowbird parasitism can be limited if the nesting habitat is not next to agricultural areas. The Wintering Grounds Committee aims to raise awareness, funds, and identify important breeding habitats. All 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)


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



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.


Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


a wetland area rich in accumulated plant material and with acidic soils surrounding a body of open water. Bogs have a flora dominated by sedges, heaths, and sphagnum.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


an animal that mainly eats fruit


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males


makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.


a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


uses sight to communicate


BirdLife International, 2012. "Vermivora chrysoptera" (On-line). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Accessed February 06, 2014 at

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

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.