Golden-winged Warbler

The golden-winged warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera) is a challenged species on at least two levels. Its preferred habitat of wet, brushy, early successional open areas with available perching trees is disappearing, which has contributed to the decline of this species, placing it in the ‘species of concern’ category by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The other contributing factor is the expansion of the Blue-winged warbler (Vermivora pinus) into the golden’s range, where hybridization between these cousins happens with relative frequency, resulting in two hybrid and back-cross types known as “Lawrence’s” and “Brewster’s”.

 Credit: Louis Agassiz Fuertes, Pre-1923

Credit: Louis Agassiz Fuertes, Pre-1923

The golden-winged mostly breeds in the Great Lakes region, with some remarkable fidelity to the Blue Ridge Eco-region. Here in our Blue Ridge Mountains, with some careful observation and exploration, breeding goldens can be found. Not that many years ago, one dependable such spot was at the Alleghany Access to the New River State Park…just across the NC/VA state line near Mouth of Wilson, VA. Speculation as to why they no longer breed here focuses on the changing composition of the rapidly aging successional fields within that park.   

Goldens are easy to identify by their buzzy song. Described as a high-pitched zeebeebeebee . Once familiar with their song, which is delivered by the male on an exposed perch, finding the bird becomes a matter of stealth, good eyes, and patience. But a word of caution:  given the rarity of this species especially, disturbing a nesting pair or their habitat is to be avoided. Use binoculars and spotting scopes to get those close-up views.

This small and highly active insectivore, wears a yellow cap above a brightly patterned black and white face and black throat. The body is mostly gray, but with a strong yellow wing patch, thus its name. Males are brighter than females.The nest is built on the ground, hidden by surrounding shrubs and/or grasses. Generally, their arrival dates are May 1st through the 10th. As one of the ‘neo-tropical migrants’, in the fall they head back south for the winter.