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Golden-winged Warbler

Golden-winged Warbler on branch: by Sandra Cote

How do I recognize it?

Measuring 11-13 cm in length, the Golden-winged Warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera) is a small, grey songbird decorated with black and gold. The black throat and black eye-mask of the male sharply contrasts with two white facial stripes. This cheeky, masked appearance does little to disguise the splendour of its golden wing coverts and matching crown of gold. The female, similar in appearance, is more modestly attired with a grey mask and grey throat-patch.

Does it migrate?

In the fall, the Golden-winged Warbler migrates by way of a flight path between the Mississippi River and the Appalachian Mountains while traveling as far south as northern South America. Some recent evidence suggests that the Manitoba population probably overwinters in Central America. A similar path in reverse is followed during spring migration with breeding destinations targeted in northeastern U.S.A. and southeastern Canada, including an important northwesterly swath through Manitoba.

Where does it live?

Within the breeding range, the Golden-winged Warbler selects areas with a moderate cover of herbaceous plants and young shrubs or saplings bordered by mature forests. It needs tree, shrub and forb layers, as it nests on the ground. Within Manitoba, the boreal-parkland transition zone (deciduous woodlands between the boreal and prairie ecosystems) sets the stage with a mosaic of small openings within stands of aspen and oak. In the wintering grounds this species uses a variety of forest types, including forest gaps and edges and shade-grown coffee plantations.

Golden-winged Warbler on branch: by Sandra Cote

Where can I see it?

To see the Golden-winged Warbler is to first recognize its beee-bzzzz-bzzzz-bzzzz song (similar to the Clay-colored Sparrow). The insect-like notes will lead the trained ear on an adventure to the slopes of the Manitoba Escarpment in the west (Riding Mountain, Duck Mountain, and Porcupine Hills), then onto a collection of sites in the central Interlake region (Mantagao Lake east to Lake Winnipeg and north to the Dauphin River), and finally to southeastern parts of Manitoba (east of Grand Marais, Monominto, Ostenfeld, and Ste. Genevieve).

Conservation Status:

The Golden-winged Warbler is listed as Threatened, provincially and federally, and it is listed as Near-threatened internationally due to a steeply declining population. Threats include a high degree of hybridization and competition with the Blue-winged Warbler, widespread loss and degradation of habitat (as well as maturation of habitat), accidental mortality, and nest parasitism by the Brown-headed Cowbird.

Did you know?

The Golden-winged Warbler’s “north-westerly swath” through Manitoba (thought to be the most genetically pure population) provides important habitat barriers which aid in protecting this species from hybridizing with its range-expanding sister-species, the Blue-winged Warbler. In recent years, however, evidence of hybridization has been detected in a small number of birds, which is perhaps an ominous sign that Manitoba’s habitat barriers are weakening.