Golden-cheeked Warbler

Setophaga chrysoparia

  • Version: 2.0 — Published January 1, 1999
  • Clifton Ladd and Leila Gass

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Figure 1. Distribution of the Golden-cheeked Warbler.

Winter distribution is poorly known.

Golden-cheeked Warbler, breeding adult male.

Ft. Hood, TX; April; photographer Brian E. Small

Editor's Note:Phylogenetic analyses of sequences of mitochondrial and nuclear DNA indicate that all species formerly placed in Dendroica, one species formerly placed in Wilsonia (citrina), and two species formerly placed in Parula (americana and pitiayumi) form a clade with the single species traditionally placed in Setophaga (ruticilla). The generic name Setophaga has priority for this clade. See the 52nd Supplement to the AOU Checklist of North American Birds for details. Future revisions of this account will reflect these changes.

The Golden-cheeked Warbler is the only endemic nesting bird out of the 613 bird species reported from Texas. It is rare and endangered, but locally common, in the juniper-oak (Juniperus-Quercus) woodlands of central Texas, where its clear buzzing song marks the beginning of spring to many central Texas birders. It becomes scarce by early summer and departs early for the wintering grounds in the mountains of southern Mexico and Central America, where it also uses a mixed evergreen-oak forest habitat.

This species first became known to science from specimens collected on its winter range (Guatemala in 1860 [Sclater and Salvin 1860]), and was not discovered in central Texas until 1864 (Dresser 1865). It was immediately recognized for its similarity to three closely related Dendroica species: Townsend's Warbler (D. townsendi), the Hermit Warbler (D. occidentalis), and the Black-throated Green Warbler (D. virens).

Most of the literature on the Golden-cheeked Warbler has focused on nesting habitat, distribution, and migration (H. P. Attwater in Chapman 1907b, Bent 1953b, Pulich 1976). The oldest literature is full of accounts of collecting expeditions and descriptions of collected nests and eggs (Brewster 1879d; Brown Brown 1882a, Brown 1884; Norris Norris 1887, Norris 1889a; Tallichet 1892). Since publication of Bent's (Bent 1953b) account, much has been added to our knowledge of the species' life history, distribution, and habitat, especially by Pulich's (Pulich 1976) comprehensive study. More recently, attention has shifted to population biology, feeding and foraging ecology, predation and nest parasitism, winter distribution and conservation needs. Intensive multi-year population studies are currently in progress at Fort Hood, Texas (Hayden and Tazik 1991; Bolsinger and Hayden Bolsinger and Hayden 1992, Bolsinger and Hayden 1994; Weinberg et al. Weinberg et al. 1995, Weinberg et al. 1996; Jetté et al. 1998) and the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge and Barton Creek Habitat Preserve (Keddy-Hector 1993; D. P. Keddy-Hector, D. D. Diamond, and D. R. Hernandez unpubl.). Winter distribution and habitat use have been studied by Vidal et al. (Vidal et al. 1994) and Thompson (Thompson 1995). Large gaps still exist in our knowledge of this species, such as in winter distribution and habitat, conservation problems in the winter range, behavior, reproductive and population biology, and conservation and management problems.

Biologists have been concerned with the survival of the species since the late 1800s, when Attwater (Attwater 1892) voiced alarm at the rate at which it was losing habitat (Lytle 1994). It was listed as Rare on the earliest rare and endangered species lists (Bureau Of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife 1966). It was listed as Endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in 1990, because of continuing concerns over loss of habitat, caused primarily by urban expansion and land clearing for agricultural activity (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1990a, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1990c, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1990b). Conservation of the species remains a contentious issue through much of the hill country of central Texas.

Recommended Citation

Ladd, C. and L. Gass (1999). Golden-cheeked Warbler (Setophaga chrysoparia), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.