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Golden-cheeked Warbler Life History

Habitat

Habitat ForestsGolden-cheeked Warblers nest solely in mature juniper-oak woodlands in the limestone hills and canyons of the Texas Hill Country at elevations of 590–1,700 feet. Ashe juniper is normally present, along with oak species such as shin, Lacey, Spanish, and plateau live oak. Other trees associated with juniper-oak woodlands are cedar elm, walnut, hackberry, and Texas ash. Old-growth woodlands that have plenty of canopy cover are optimal, but warblers are nearly always present in habitats that have trees of different ages (and heights) and dense oak cover. This kind of habitat has been removed across most of the species’ former range, so many pairs are now found in canyons, which are not as developed. After fledging, adults and young frequently visit adjacent habitats for summer foraging, including less-vegetated woodlands, oak savannas, and woodland edges. Migrants in Mexico mostly use pine, pine-oak, and oak-sweetgum forest, as well as cloud forest, in the Sierra Madre Oriental. Wintering birds occupy much the same habitats farther south.Back to top

Food

Food InsectsLike its close relatives, Townsend’s, Hermit, and Black-throated Green Warblers, Golden-cheeked Warblers feed heavily on caterpillars, especially during the breeding season. They eat mostly soft-bodied insects and their larvae, including plant lice, beetles, ants, and flies, as well as spiders. They sometimes remove the wings and tenderize larger prey items by smashing them against a branch. They forage mostly by gleaning, hover-gleaning, and flying out to catch insects. During the nesting season they forage high up in trees, usually evergreens, though wintering birds appear to favor oaks.Back to top

Nesting

Nest Placement

Nest TreeFemales probably select the nest site and perform most of the nest construction and defense. Most nests are constructed in the fork of small branches in Ashe juniper or oaks, typically in the upper part of the tree, 16–23 feet above the ground.

Nest Description

Nests are cups woven of Ashe juniper bark, twigs, and leaves, and they may also incorporate grass, oak leaves, lichen, seeds, rootlets, moss, spider cocoons, feathers, hair, and wool. The cup is held together partly by spider silk. Nest dimensions average 3.2 inches across and 2 inches tall, with the inner cavity 1.9 inches across and 1.5 inches deep.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:3-5 eggs
Number of Broods:1-2 broods
Egg Length:0.7-0.8 in (1.65-1.93 cm)
Egg Width:0.5-0.6 in (1.29-1.45 cm)
Incubation Period:10-12 days
Nestling Period:9-12 days
Egg Description:White with dark speckles concentrated around the large end.
Condition at Hatching:Helpless.
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Behavior

Behavior Foliage GleanerGolden-cheeked Warblers are socially monogamous. Males arrive earlier on nesting grounds than females and establish territories, which may be 4–10 acres. Males sing from prominent perches to mark territory and defend it by expelling intruders throughout the season, until young become independent. Courtship behavior, rarely observed, involves the female collecting nesting material as the male sings a soft, twittering version of the song, flicking and spreading his wings and tail and sometimes bringing nesting material to the female. Males bring food to the incubating female, and both parents feed the young. They rarely leave the territory unless there is no water source on the territory. When young fledge, the male and female sometimes tend to different fledglings. Both young and adults occasionally join mixed-species flocks in various woodland types before migrating in July and early August.Back to top

Conservation

Conservation Red Watch List

Golden-cheeked Warblers have been listed as a Federally Endangered species in the United States since 1990 and are also classified as endangered by the IUCN. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 110,000. Partners in Flight rates the species an 18 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and includes it on the Red List indicating a species of the highest conservation concern. Although the rate of the species’ decline is not known, the loss and fragmentation of its restricted breeding habitat has been massive. Their breeding habitat of old-growth and mature second-growth juniper-oak woodlands are climax communities and take decades to recover from disturbance. Wintering areas are shrinking due to timber extraction, firewood-cutting, agriculture, mining operations, reservoir construction, and residential development. Brood parasitism by Brown-headed Cowbirds also takes a toll on nesting success in this species.

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Credits

Ladd, Clifton and Leila Gass. (1999). Golden-cheeked Warbler (Setophaga chrysoparia), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

Partners in Flight. (2020). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2020.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2019). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2019. Version 2.07.2019. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

Stephenson, T. and S. Whittle (2013). The Warbler Guide. Princeton University Press, New Jersey, USA.

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