- Minnesota Breeding Bird Distribution
- Breeding Habitat
- Population Abundance
- Literature Cited
Regular breeding resident in northern Minnesota and migrant; the Golden-winged Warbler was a common species during the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas (MNBBA).
Formerly occurred from southern Manitoba south through the Great Lakes Region, southern New England, the north-central states, and the Appalachian Mountains. Today two primary population centers are recognized: (1) a Great Lakes population that stretches from central Manitoba across the northern Great Lakes states to southern Quebec, and (2) an Appalachian Mountain population that stretches from southeastern New York south to northeastern Georgia. The core of the species’ breeding population occurs in northern Minnesota (Figure 1).
Assigned a Continental Concern Score of 16/20 and designated a Red Watch List species by Partners in Flight; designated a Species in Greatest Conservation Need by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and a Stewardship Species by Audubon Minnesota.
A long-distance migrant that winters in southern Central America and northern South America. Minnesota breeding birds are now known to spend the winter in Central America, from Guatemala and Honduras through western Panama, with major concentrations in Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica (Kramer et al. 2017).
An insectivorous foliage gleaner.
Open-cup nest usually located on or slightly above the ground, supported by the stalks of surrounding vegetation.
The Golden-winged Warbler was first documented nesting in Minnesota in 1878 (Svingen and Hertzel 2015). Roberts (1932) considered it a regular breeding species in the early 1900s from Lake Itasca east to Lake Mille Lacs and south throughout the Big Woods region of Hennepin, Wright, and Stearns Counties. He also reported the species was seen, “though rarely,” as far south as Fillmore County. When he was a young man in the late 1800s, he shared his fond memories of encounters with the species near the Twin Cities:
There was always, every springtime, a pair of these Warblers, close by and almost within reach of, the spray of the Laughing Waters [Minnehaha Falls], and several other pairs made their summer homes in the heavy timber south of Lake Calhoun.
These common haunts of the Golden-winged Warbler were long gone by the early 1900s as the Twin Cities grew into a bustling metropolitan area. Roberts wrote, “It is now apparently a rare summer resident in what is left of the hardwood timber in the southern part of the state. All recent records in the nesting-season are from the coniferous forests or close to their southern border.” At the time of his writing, confirmed nesting records (nests with eggs) were available only from Hennepin and Becker Counties, and inferred nesting records (broods of young out of the nest) from Sherburne and Mille Lacs Counties. Svingen and Hertzel (2015) provided additional details regarding the species’ early presence in the state in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Many years later, Green and Janssen (1975) discussed the species’ distribution at length. “It is difficult,” they wrote, “to document any change in the range of the Golden-winged Warbler because ornithological exploration has been uneven.” In particular, they called into question Roberts’s assertion that the species may have been a rare breeding resident south of the Twin Cities. His sole evidence was based on a bird J. C. Hvoslef shot in Lanesboro in mid-June 1888. Regardless, they noted additional, albeit poorly documented, evidence of the species nesting in southeastern Minnesota in Winona County in 1934, and in Olmsted County in 1954.
Green and Janssen (1975) noted also that most of Roberts’s original account of the Golden-winged Warbler was based on his personal experience with the bird, especially in Hennepin and Stearns Counties, as well as from accounts by others in Otter Tail, Mille Lacs, Aitkin, and Sherburne Counties. Other than brief references to its presence at Cass Lake in 1927, and in or near Itasca State Park from 1919 to 1929, there is little documentation from northern Minnesota in the early 1900s. Yet, by the mid-1900s, Golden-winged Warblers were frequently reported from localities in north-central Minnesota. Indeed, in the 20 years prior to Green and Janssen’s 1975 publication, all but one specimen deposited in the collections at the Bell Museum of Natural History were from northern counties. As a result, Green and Janssen concluded that the species might actually be expanding its range northward.
Several years later, Janssen (1987) described the species’ primary breeding range as extending from “Chisago, Pine, and Carlton Counties in the east, westward through northern Anoka, Isanti, Kanabec, Aitkin, Cass, and Crow Wing Counties and as far west as Hubbard and Clearwater Counties.” It was just beginning to expand northeast into the Arrowhead region and farther north into Koochiching, Beltrami, and Lake of the Woods Counties. Since 1970, nesting had been confirmed in 7 counties: Aitkin, Anoka, Clearwater, Crow Wing, Hubbard, Mille Lacs, and St. Louis. Hertzel and Janssen (1998) later added Becker County to the list.
Beginning in the late 1980s, field staff with the Minnesota Biological Survey documented 547 breeding season locations for the Golden-winged Warbler. None of the locations were south of a line from southern Chisago and northern Anoka Counties west to southeastern Stearns Counties. The warbler was still uncommon in the Arrowhead region. The majority of locations were in a region stretching from Lake Mille Lacs northwest to southern Beltrami and Clearwater Counties (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources 2016).
Records collected by MNBBA participants documented the species’ broad distribution throughout the Laurentian Mixed Forest Province (except Cook County), the northern reaches of the Eastern Broadleaf Forest Province, and the far eastern region of the Tallgrass Aspen Parklands Province. Observers reported a total of 1,329 Golden-winged Warbler detections in 16.9% (805/4,759) of the surveyed atlas blocks and in 23.1% (540/2,337) of the priority blocks. Breeding evidence was documented in 37 blocks (Figures 2 and 3; Table 1). The species was reported in 31 of Minnesota’s 87 counties and was confirmed breeding in 14 counties. Eight of the counties were additions to Hertzel and Janssen’s list: Beltrami, Cass, Itasca, Kanabec, Lake, Morrison, Pine, and Sherburne.
MNBBA data were used to generate a predicted breeding distribution map for the species across the state (Figure 4). Highest breeding densities were predicted in the southern and western reaches of the Laurentian Mixed Forest Province. In the far northeastern counties of Lake and Cook, the highest probability of occurrence was along the North Shore of Lake Superior and in the young growth of the 2007 Ham Lake fire. Very low breeding densities were predicted in much of the Eastern Broadleaf Forest Province where suitable habitat may be present but likely occupied by its near relative, the Blue-winged Warbler.
The Golden-winged Warbler’s northward range expansion and southern range contraction in Minnesota since 1880 are well-documented by a series of maps presented by Svingen and Hertzel (2015). Similar changes have been witnessed throughout the species’ breeding range in the past century. Wide-scale clearing of the eastern deciduous forest in the late 1800s and early 1900s likely created an abundance of new shrubland habitat for this original inhabitant of the Ohio River valley, southern New England, and Appalachian Mountains. Populations gradually pushed farther north into New England, a movement facilitated in later years by the abandonment of farmlands, and farther north in the midwestern states. The warbler first appeared in southern Ontario in the 1930s and was widespread throughout New England by the mid-1900s (Confer et al. 2011).
When much of the landscape in southern New England and the southern Great Lakes region was converted to croplands and urban development, the warbler’s range began to contract along its southern periphery. Before the end of the 20th century, Golden-winged Warblers were largely gone from southern Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and southern New England. In the next 10 years the species’ range further contracted in central Michigan, southern Ontario, New York, and throughout the Appalachian Mountains (Golden-winged Warbler Working Group 2013). Although habitat changes certainly propelled many of the range contractions, competition and hybridization with the Blue-winged Warbler also played a major role (Confer et al. 2011; Roth et al. 2012).
*Note that the definition of confirmed nesting of a species is different for Breeding Bird Atlas projects, including the definition used by the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas, compared with a more restrictive definition used by the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union. For details see the Data Methods Section.