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Golden-winged Warbler

Photograph of Golden-winged Warbler
©Jeff Nadler Photography

Scientific name: Vermivora chrysoptera

New York Status: Special Concern
Federal Status: Not Listed


This neotropical migrant is a small songbird (4.25 to 5.25 inches) of eastern shrub lands. The golden-winged song is a high and buzzy "zee zee zee zee." Adult males are gray above and white below with bright yellow fore crown and wing coverts (set of feathers that cover feathers beneath it). It has a black eye mask and throat patch suggestive of the black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapilla). Females appear similar to males with smaller yellow wing patch and no black eye mask or throat patch. Likewise, juveniles are similar to adults.

Life History

Males arrive on breeding territory 2 to 7 days before females. Pairs form as soon as females arrive and nest building begins almost immediately after bond formation. Nest construction and incubation is done entirely by female. The nest is often an open cup of grasses with leaves forming the base and is typically located on the ground in a shrubby or forested edge. Females will desert nests during the construction phase if disturbed, but will tolerate a high level of disturbance while incubating. Nesting occurs between mid-May and late June with incubation beginning when the second to last egg is laid. Clutch size is 3 to 6 eggs. Re-nesting is known to occur after the loss of a clutch. After 10 to 11 days, the completely altricial (helpless) young will hatch. Both parents share in feeding the young which remain in the nest for 8 to 9 days. Diet consists mainly of insects and spiders gleaned from the peripheral branches of tree tops.

map showing the golden-winged warbler's breeding range
Gold-winged warbler range map from Birds of the World,
maintained by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Distribution and Habitat

The golden-winged warbler breeds throughout the north central and northeastern United States into Ontario, Canada. Although its range is expanding westward, it is disappearing from much of its former range in the northeastern states. This pattern coincides with the loss of early successional habitat in the northeast, as well as, the expansion of the blue-winged warbler (Vermivora pinus) into the golden-winged warbler's range. The golden-winged warbler is a habitat specialist and prefers to nest in early successional fields with a combination of shrubby and open areas within the territory, with scattered overstory trees. In New York, this type of habitat is found in abandoned farmlands in the early stages of succession and in scrub/shrub wetlands.


This species is becoming increasingly localized and uncommon throughout the state. Breeding Bird Atlas results for 2000 to 2005 showed a significant population decline across the state with the only remaining stronghold in the St. Lawrence Valley of northwestern New York.

Threats to golden-winged warbler populations in New York State include:

  • habitat loss
  • competition
  • hybridization with blue-winged warblers (Vermivora pinus)
  • nest parasitism by brown-headed cowbirds (Molothrus ater)

Management and Research Needs

There is a need for further research into habitat use by golden-winged and blue-winged warblers. Blue-winged warblers tend to be habitat generalists while golden-winged warblers are habitat specialists that may be competing with blue-winged warblers for optimal breeding territories. Maintenance of early successional fields is needed to preserve golden-winged warbler nesting habitat. The degree of hybridization with blue-winged warblers as well as nest parasitism by brown-headed cowbirds also require further study.

Map of the Distribution of Golden-winged Warbler in New York
Distribution of golden-winged warbler in New York from
1st and 2nd NYS Breeding Bird Atlas records.