Working Lands

Collaborating for Protection of the Golden-winged Warbler: Why forests matter

Anyone who regularly reads our newsletter, blog, or attends our programs knows that Audubon North Carolina has spent a lot of time and effort over the last few years working to learn about and conserve Golden-winged Warblers (GWWA).  And we are not alone.  The Golden-winged Warbler Working Group (GWWAWG)was established in 2005, by more than 75 partners, to dig deep into the science and life cycle of this species. In this series of blog posts, learn about all the work of the GWWWG and what this collaborative effort has done to protect this tiny gem of our forests.

Post by Curtis Smalling, Coordinator NC IBA Program & Mountain Program Manager

We have also learned that the amount of forest at the stand level (quantity of trees per unit area) or territory scale is also very important.  We never could figure out early on our study sites where the birds went during the later part of the day.  We would follow them in the morning while they sang and foraged, and then when lunchtime came, we couldn’t find them.  They did not sing, did not interact with each other. We were frustrated but curious.

Photo by Ed Burress.

Thanks to telemetry work done by partners in Minnesota, Tennessee, and West Virginia we now have a better picture of why that is.  As it turns out, the males go into the adjacent mature forest to feed for most of the afternoon.  We always think of them as an early successional bird, but the proximity of the forest is also very important.  It becomes even more important after the young birds fledge from the nests. Thanks to tiny transmitters put on adults and fledglings, we now know that the birds lead their young birds into the adjacent forest.  And it is even more complicated than that simple fact.  Golden-wings practice what is known as brood splitting. Once the chicks fledge (usually all on the same day), the pair split the brood into two groups, with one parent tending to each group. They do not segregate by sex, and it is not always an even split.  The female does a better job of getting her young into the forest, and she often goes further in, often as much as 400-500 yards.  The males tend to stay slightly closer to the open edge between forest and early successional.

In our next entry in this series, learn about the most dangerous time for young GWWA chicks. Read the full series here.

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