Golden-winged Warbler

Vermivora chrysoptera

The bee-buzz-buzz-buzz song of the Golden-winged Warbler is among the easiest warbler songs to learn. This handsome Neotropical migrant can be found across the state during spring and fall migration but breeds primarily at higher elevations in the Cumberland Mountains and eastern mountains of Tennessee.

It nests in shrubby fields, occasionally in recent clear-cuts, and especially on old narrow coal mine strip benches. The breeding range includes the northeastern and north-central United States north to southern Ontario, and the Golden-winged Warbler travels to Central America and northern South America for the non-breeding season.

Unfortunately, this species is of high conservation concern because of a long-term declining population trend. The causes for this decline include loss of breeding habitat due to reforestation and current mining practices, hybridization with the closely related Blue-winged Warbler, and habitat loss on the wintering grounds.

Description: The male of this small songbird has a black throat and face patch, a yellow crown, white underparts, a gray back, and a yellow wing patch. The female is similar to the male, but the throat and face patch are gray, and the yellow wing patch is smaller.
Length: 4.75"
Wingspan: 7.5"
Weight: 0.31 oz

Voice: The song is high buzzy bee-buzz-buzz-buzz with the first note higher than the rest.

Similar Species:

  • Blue-winged and Golden-winged Warblers are able to hybridize and their offspring have plumages that resemble the parental types. In the "Brewster's Warbler," the male has a face pattern similar to a Blue-winged Warbler but with a white belly and yellow wing bars like a Golden-winged Warbler. A male "Lawrence's Warbler" has a face pattern like a Golden-winged Warbler but is yellow below like a Blue-winged Warbler.

Habitat: Golden-winged Warblers breed in second-growth areas with patches of shrubs, scattered trees, and grassy ground cover.  Abandoned pastures and shrubby fields, old shrubby strip-mine benches, and rarely clear cuts are some places you can find these birds. The birds winter in mixed species flocks with residents and other migrants in the canopy of tropical forests.

Diet: Primarily insects.

Nesting and reproduction: Males arrive on the breeding territory 2 to 7 days before the females. Pairs form shortly after the females arrive. Where the range overlaps, Golden-wings will sometimes hybridize with Blue-winged Warblers.

Clutch Size: Usually 5 eggs, with a range of 3 to 6 eggs.

Incubation: The female incubates the eggs for 10 to 11 days.

Fledging: Both parents feed the young, which fledge in about 10 days.

Nest: The open cup-nest is built by the female and is made of grasses, bark, and dead leaves. It is usually well hidden and placed on or near the ground.

Status in Tennessee: The Golden-winged Warbler is an uncommon migrant and summer resident in Tennessee. The birds arrive in mid-April and depart by late September; spring migrants depart by mid-May. The breeding distribution in Tennessee is limited to the Cumberland Mountains and mountains of eastern Tennessee. (See link below for details on status and distribution in Tennessee). The Golden-winged Warbler is listed as a species In Need of Management in Tennessee because of a declining population.

Fun Facts:

  • Golden-winged Warblers will often breed with Blue-winged Warblers when they occur in the same habitat. The fertile offspring have distinct plumages and are called "Brewster's" and "Lawrence's" warblers. Brewster's looks like a Blue-winged Warbler with a white chest, and Lawrence's looks like an all-yellow Golden-winged Warbler. When these hybrids backcross with a pure parental types, intermediate-appearing birds may result.
  • During a recent survey of Golden-winged Warbler breeding habitat in Tennessee (Welton 2003), all Golden-winged Warblers were found in human-altered sites, with more than half on abandoned coal mining strip benches. All breeding sites above 2,800 feet in the Cumberland Mountains and eastern mountains of Tennessee were free of Blue-winged Warblers.

Obsolete English Names: golden-winged swamp warbler

Best places to see in Tennessee: Strip mine benches in the Northern Cumberland Wildlife Management Area, Scott, Anderson, and Campbell Counties; and Hampton Creek Cove State Natural Area, Carter County.