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Golden-winged Warbler

Vermivora chrysoptera ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: PARULIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Near Threatened

A boldly marked warbler with a color pattern all its own, Golden-winged Warblers are slim, silvery gray birds with golden flashes on the head and wings. They breed in wet, shrubby tangles of the Upper Midwest and Appalachians, and spend winters in open woodlands and shade-coffee plantations. They have suffered severe population declines in the last half-century. They often hybridize with Blue-winged Warblers, producing a range of distinctive forms.

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Keys to identification Help

Warblers
Warblers
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Golden-winged Warblers are small songbirds with fairly slim bodies and short tails. They have a thin, straight bill that is sharply pointed.

  • Color Pattern

    Adult males are silvery gray with a strong black-and-white face pattern, yellow crown, and large yellow patches on the wings. Females are similar but lack the male’s black mask and bib. Hybrids with the Blue-winged Warbler can produce a mostly light gray form (“Brewster’s”) or a mostly golden form (“Lawrence’s”).

  • Behavior

    Golden-winged Warblers forage among the leaves and branch tips of their low, shrubby habitat. Males sing their loud, buzzy song over and over again from the tops of shrubs during early summer.

  • Habitat

    Golden-winged Warblers breed in tangled, shrubby habitats such as regenerating clearcuts, wet thickets, and tamarack bogs. They often move into nearby woodland when the young have fledged. They spend winters in open woodlands and shade-coffee plantations of Central and South America.

Range Map Help

Golden-winged Warbler Range Map
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Field MarksHelp

  • Adult male

    Golden-winged Warbler

    Adult male
    • Bright yellow crown and wing patch
    • Black mask and throat
    • Gray back
    • White belly
    • Sharp black bill
    • © Gerry Dewaghe, Promised Land State Park, Pennsylvania, May 2010
  • Adult male

    Golden-winged Warbler

    Adult male
    • Bright yellow crown and wing patch
    • Black mask and throat patch
    • White belly
    • Gray back, black legs
    • © Gerry Dewaghe, Promised Land State Park, Pennsylvania, May 2005
  • Adult female

    Golden-winged Warbler

    Adult female
    • Greenish yellow crown and wing patch, duller than male
    • Pale gray mask on face
    • Gray back, white underparts
    • Sharp black bill
    • © Gerry Dewaghe, Promised Land State Park, Pennsylvania, May 2010
  • Adult male

    Golden-winged Warbler

    Adult male
    • Black throat and mask, with black eye
    • Bright yellow crown and wing patch
    • Silvery gray back
    • Thin, pointed black bill
    • © Gerry Dewaghe, June 2006
  • Adult male

    Golden-winged Warbler

    Adult male
    • Silvery gray back, wings and tail
    • Bright yellow patches on crown and wings
    • Black mask
    • © Laura Erickson, St. Germain, Wisconsin, June 2010
  • Adult female

    Golden-winged Warbler

    Adult female
    • Yellow-green patches on crown and wings
    • Gray back and flanks, white belly
    • Dark gray patches on face and throat
    • Thin, sharp black bill
    • © Lloyd Spitalnik, Sterling Forest, Orange County, New York, May 2009

Similar Species

The closely related Blue-winged Warbler has bright-yellow underparts and lacks yellow on the head and wings. Hybrids between Blue-winged and Golden-winged Warblers are fairly common and tend to occur in one of two main forms. These can be variable, but “Brewster’s” Warbler is mostly gray and white with a yellow forehead, like a Golden-winged Warbler, but has a black line through the eye instead of the stronger face pattern of the Golden-winged. “Lawrence’s” Warbler has yellow overall, like a Blue-winged, but shows the Golden-winged Warbler’s black mask and throat patch.

Find This Bird

Your best bet for spotting this increasingly rare species is to visit a shrubby, open area where there are known breeding birds. (Minnesota is the stronghold of the remaining Golden-winged Warbler population.) Try to visit during May and June. Males are very vocal and active then; they make long, conspicuous flights, perching near the top of a sapling to sing boldly. Look for males and females hopping about in shrubs in search of food (females forage closer to the ground). Males are fairly responsive to pishing, which may encourage a Golden-winged Warbler to pop just its face out of protective cover. On migration in late April and early May, look for these uncommon migrants at woodlots and other migrant traps that draw in large numbers of other migratory songbirds.

Get Involved

To learn more about Golden-winged Warbler conservation, visit the Golden-winged Warbler Working Group website.

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A Golden Plan for a Turnaround: The Golden-winged Warbler Conservation Plan lays out a blueprint for reversing one of the steepest declines of any songbird in the last half-century. Story in Living Bird magazine.