New York Natural Heritage Program
Golden-winged Warbler
Vermivora chrysoptera (Linnaeus, 1766)
Birds

General Description [-]
The Golden-winged Warbler is a small passerine that is typically-sized for a warbler and slightly larger than a Blue-winged Warbler. They average 13 cm in length and weigh 9g (Confer et al. 2011). The male has bright yellow wing and head patches, a gray back, white chest and abdomen, and a unique facial pattern with black eye and throat patches that are separated with white (Confer et al. 2011). Females have lighter yellow wing and head patches and a gray eye and throat patches (Confer et al. 2011).

Nests are constructed of leaves as the base, followed by coarse material such as shreds of bark from Viburnum or grapevine (Vitis spp.), with an inner lining of fine plant material (Confer et al. 2011). Eggs are typically cream-colored and speckled towards the broad end (Confer et al. 2011).

Golden-winged Warblers have two song types that have been well-studied (Ficken and Ficken 1967; Gill and Murray 1972; Highsmith 1989). The Type 1 song, common early in the breeding season, is one note followed by three (sometimes 2-8), buzzy notes often described as "bee-buzz-buzz-buzz" (Confer et al. 2011). The Type 2 song is often used in male-male encounters and is also sung in the pre-dawn. It is described as a rapid series of staccato notes followed by a lower-pitched raspy trill (Confer et al. 2011).

Identifying Characteristics [-]
The unique combination of black eye mask and throat patch and bright yellow wing and head patches are identifying features of males. Golden-winged and Blue-winged Warblers may mate and produce fertile hybrids. Two hybrid forms are the Brewster's and Lawrence's Warbler which can be distinguished visually. The Brewster's hybrid has a gray back and yellow wing patch similar to the Golden-winged Warbler but lacks the unique black head pattern and instead has only a thin black line across the eye. The Lawrence's hybrid shares the unique black head pattern, but typically has features similar to the Blue-winged Warbler such as more yellow on the head and chest and more separation of the yellow or white wing patches into two wing bars. Intermediate hybrid forms may occur also.

Best Life Stage for Proper Identification [-]
Breeding season adults are easiest to identify.

Behavior [-]
Golden-winged Warblers forage in small trees and shrubs primarily by probing and prying open curled leaves to obtain insect prey (Confer et al. 2011). While foraging, they may hang on branch tips and twigs like a chickadee.

Golden-winged Warblers are territorial and males maintain territories that are 0.2 to 6.0 ha in size (Confer et al. 2011). Territory boundaries may overlap with the sympatric Blue-Winged Warbler (Confer et al. 2011). Their nesting season is short, typically lasting only six weeks (Buehler et al. 2007). During breeding, males perform courtship displays that include special flights, singing, and chasing females. Tail spreading is a behavior common in interactions between males. Golden-winged Warblers raise a single brood but may renest if the first nest fails (Confer et al. 2011). Their breeding system has been described as primarily monogamous with only occasional reports of the same male feeding young at two nests; however, recent genetic studies have found evidence of frequent extra-pair offspring at nests (Confer et al. 2011).

Golden-winged Warblers have been noted to associate with Black-capped Chickadees (Parus atricapillus) occasionally on breeding territories and during migration (Ficken and Ficken 1974). They may also join mixed species flocks prior to migration and occur in them on the wintering grounds (Tramer and Kemp 1982).

Diet [-]
Research into diet and major food items for this species is limited and their specific diet in New York is unknown. However, it is known that they consume Tortricid moths and larvae as well other winged insects, and spiders (Will 1986; Confer et al. 2011).
The Best Time to See
The Golden-winged Warbler is present in New York during their spring and summer breeding season and also passes through during migration. The best time to see them is anytime from spring migration through the late summer when their plumage is most recognizable. They sing frequently and most strongly in the spring after arrival on their breeding grounds; this is typically May 3-5 for most of New York (Levine 1998) and May 14 for north central New York (J. Confer unpub. data). The website ebird.org reports the highest frequencies of Golden-winged Warblers in New York during the period from May 15th through June 21st (eBird 2013).
J F M A M J J A S O N D
Present Breeding
The time of year you would expect to find Golden-winged Warbler present (blue shading) and breeding (orange shading) in New York.