Bird Observer: The Birding Journal for New England

Bird Observer

The Birding Journal for New England

June 2015

Vol. 43, No. 3

The Buzz on Golden-winged Warblers in Vermont

Mark LaBarr


Male Golden-winged Warbler at a project site in Hinesburg, Vermont. (Phoyo by John Hannan.)

It all started with a power line right-of-way owned by the Vermont Electric Power Company (VELCO). This right-of-way provides a swath of early successional habitat that slices through the southern Champlain Valley of Vermont. In 2012, Audubon Vermont, as part of its Champlain Valley Bird Initiative, partnered with VELCO and University of Vermont graduate student Christine Peterson to better understand the use of the right-of-way by a suite of shrubland birds and to help guide management actions. The bird species of interest included Golden-winged, Blue-winged, and Prairie warblers, as well as Eastern Towhee, Field Sparrow, Brown Thrasher, and American Woodcock. The one thing these species had in common, or so we thought, was that their populations were all declining in Vermont. From the right-of-way surveys, the project grew to focus primarily on Golden-winged Warblers. We wanted to determine where these warblers were located in the valley and how Audubon Vermont could work with partners and landowners to maintain and enhance appropriate habitat.

Golden-winged Warblers have been declining across their range for many years due to loss of the early successional habitat in which they breed, changes in land use patterns, and hybridization with their cousins the Blue-winged Warbler. These declines have resulted in the petitioning for federal listing of this species and the creation of the Golden-winged Warbler Working Group. This group has developed a conservation plan including best management practices for the different habitat types this species favors. And there are many such habitats. From the young forests of the southern Appalachians, to the abandoned farmlands of New York and Vermont, to the aspen parklands of the upper Midwest, the Golden-winged Warbler uses a variety of early successional habitats for breeding

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