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Golden-winged Warbler Fact Sheet

Golden-winged Warbler
Vermivora chrysoptera

New York Status: Special Concern
Federal Status: Not Listed


Photograph of Golden-winged Warbler
©Jeff Nadler Photography

This neotropical migrant is a small (11-13 cm) songbird 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. Black eye mask and throat patch suggestive of the black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapilla). Females similar to males with smaller yellow wing patch and no black eye mask or throat patch. Juvenile are similar to adult.

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 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.

Distribution and Habitat

Map of Golden-winged Warbler Range
Golden-winged Warbler Range

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. 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. Threats to golden-winged warbler populations in New York State include habitat loss; competition and hybridization with blue-winged warblers; and nest parasitism by brown-headed cowbirds (Molothrus ater). 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.

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

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.

Additional References

Confer, J. 1988. Golden-winged Warbler. Vermivora chrysoptera. Pages 356-357 in Andrle, R. F. and J. R. Carroll, eds. The Atlas of Breeding Birds in New York State. Cornell Univ. Press, Ithaca, NY.

Confer, J. L. 1992. Golden-winged Warbler. In The Birds of North America, No. 20 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.

Confer, J. L., J. L. Larkin, and P. E. Allen. 2003. Effects of vegetation, interspecific competition, and brood parasitism on golden-winged warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera) nesting success. The Auk 120(1):138-144.

Confer, J. 2008. Golden-winged Warbler. Vermivora chrysoptera. Pages 468-469 in McGowan, K. J. and K. Corwin, eds. The Second Atlas of Breeding Birds in New York State. Cornell Univ. Press, Ithaca, NY.