During the summer months Dendroica chrysoparia has a very narrow breeding range on the Edwards Plateau, Lampasas Cut-Plain, and Llano Uplift regions of central Texas. The bird migrates in the winter months to the highlands of Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.
Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native ); neotropical (Native )
Occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations, but breeds in a single state or province
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Breeding
Global Range: (5000-20,000 square km (about 2000-8000 square miles)) Breeding range encompasses central Texas from Dallas, Palo Pinto, and Bosque counties south through the eastern and south-central portions of the Edwards Plateau (AOU 1998, Ladd and Gass 1999). During the nonbreeding season, the range includes highlands (1,500-2,500 meters) of from Chiapas (Mexico) through Guatemala, Honduras, and north-central Nicaragua; transients occur from June to August and in March in Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas, and western Veracruz, Mexico (AOU 1998, Ladd and Gass 1999).
Breeding range extent appears to be roughly 20,000 square kilometers.
- Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2014. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: Version 6.9. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
U.S.A. (TX), Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Belize
The warbler was named for the distinctive plumage on its face. The golden-cheeked warbler is the only North American warbler with radiant yellow cheeks outlined in black. This characteristic is present on both the female and the male though they are sexually dimorphic. The male golden-cheeked warbler has a more distinctly marked plumage than the females. A thin black line goes through each dark brown eye and extends to the back of the head. The upper breast and throat are black, while the lower breast and belly are white with black streaks. The upper and lower mandibles, legs, and feet are black. The wings of Dendroica chrysoparia are blackish with two white wingbars.
Female D. chrysoparia looks similar to the males, but they have a less dazzling plumage. The back of the adult female is dark olive-green with thin black streaks. The cheeks are yellowish, but a duller shade than the males. The juveniles are similar in coloring to the females.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry
Length: 14 cm
Weight: 10 grams
Differs from black-throated green warbler (DENDROICA VIRENS) in lacking yellow on the underparts and in having a more clearly defined yellow ear patch; male has black back (olive in black-throated green warbler).
Sierra Madre de Oaxaca Pine-oak Forests Habitat
This taxon is found in the Sierra Madre de Oaxaca pine-oak forests, an ecoregion of northern Oaxaca, Mexico exhibiting a large number of endangered species, so that the conservation value is outstanding in terms of uniqueness of the habitat. The Sierra Madre de Oaxaca pine-oak forests is within the Tropical and Subtropical Conifer Forests biome, and the ecoregion is known for elevated plant endemism, especially within the Sierra de Juarez montane forests.
This ecoregion is located in northern Oaxaca State, and is delineated by the Sierra Norte de Oaxaca Mountains, which have characteristically abrupt and rugged topography. Its tallest peak is Zempoaltepetl (3400 metres), and most of the terrain in this area is above 1000 metres. Three mountain chains or sierras constitute the Sierra Madre de Oaxaca: Juarez, Aloapaneca and Zempoaltepec. The climate is temperate and humid with annual temperatures ranging from 16°C to 20°C. The annual mean precipitation varies greatly from 700 millimetres (mm) to as great as 4000 mm.
The forests also exhibit a high diversity of amphibians, including: the endemic Acultzingo Pigmy Salamander (Thorius dubitus EN), known only from the type locality near Puerto del Aire near Veracruz; the endemic Claw-toed False Brook Salamander (Pseudoeurycea unguidentis CR), known solely from Cerro San Felipe /Cerro San Luis in north-central Oaxaca; the endemic Lower Cerro Pygmy Salamander (Thorius pulmonaris EN), known only from Cerro San Felipe region, central Oaxaca; MacDougal's Pygmy Salamander (Thorius macdougalli VU); and the endemic Mexican Axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum CR), found in Lakes Chalco and Xochimilco of the Valley of Mexico near Mexico City; the near-endemic Sierra Juarez Moss Salamander (Cryptotriton adelos EN); the endemic Schmidt's Pygmy Salamander (Thorius schmidti EN), known only from near the village of Zoquitlán in southern Puebla, Mexico; and the endemic Mustache False Brook Salamander (Pseudoeurycea mystax EN).
The Sierra Juarez Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus cryptus) is endemic to the ecoregion, and limited in range to drier parts of the Sierra de Juarez, in northeastern Oaxaca. There are a number of threatened reptilian taxa in the ecoregion including the Ribbon Graceful Brown Snake (Rhadinaea fulvivittis VU), a limited distribution snake endemic to southern Mexico.
Avian taxa found here include the Dwarf Jay (Cyanolyca nana EN), Bearded Tree Quail (Dendrortyx barbatus CR), Tamaulipas Pygmy-owl (Glaucidium sanchezi) and Grey-barred Wren (Campylorhynchus megalopterus) as restricted-range bird species, which includes this ecoregion. The Oaxaca Sparrow (Aimophila notosticta NT), Golden-cheeked Warbler (Dendroica chrysoparia EN), Russet Nightingale-thrush (Catharus occidentalis), Hooded Yellowthroat (Geothlypis nelsoni), and Collared Towhee (Pipilo ocai) are also species which thrive in the habitats offered by this mountainous ecoregion.
This ecoregion presents a mosaic of vegetatative associations, due to the varied climate and topography. These formations include tropical evergreen forest, montane cloud forest, pine forest, pine-oak forest, and oak forest. The pine forests, at elevations between 1600 and 2600 metres (m), include trees that are 25 to 40 m tall. Dominant pine species are Mexican White Pine (Pinus ayacahuite); Lawson's Pine (P. lawsonii), a Mexican endemic; Chiapas White Pine (P. strobus var. chiapensischiapensis); Michoacan Pine (P. devoniana LR/LC) and Smooth-barked Mexican Pine (P. pseudostrobus). These pine forests have a robust understory and an herbacious layer dominated by numerous species of the Ericaceae family.
- C. Michael Hogan & World Wildlife Fund. 2013."Sierra Madre de Oaxaca pine-oak forests". Encyclopedia of Earth, National Council for Science and the Environment, Washington DC ed.Mark McGinley.
- Edward A. Goldman & Robert T. Moore. 1946. The biotic provinces of Mexico. Journal of Mammalogy, 26(4):347-361.
The golden-cheeked warbler is an extreme habitat specialist that requires stands of mature Ashe juniper to build its nest. During the breeding season the birds inhabit woodlands containing a majority of Ashe juniper along with other trees such as Texas Oak, Scaley Bark Oak, and Plateau Live Oak. Dendroica chrysoparia spends winters in pine-oak forest.
Terrestrial Biomes: forest
Habitat and Ecology
Comments: Breeding habitat consists of old-growth and mature regrowth Ashe juniper-oak woodlands in limestone hills and canyons, at 180 to 520 meters elevation (summarized in Ladd and Gass 1999), including edges and open mosaics of Ashe juniper-scrub oak association in broken terrain in canyons and slopes, and closed canopy stands with plenty of old junipers and a sufficient proportion of deciduous oaks in the canopy (Sexton 1992); occupied sites contain junipers at least 40 years old. This species may occupy habitat patches as small as perhaps 50 hectares (larger if close to urban areas) (Sexton 1992). Nests usually are in upright forks of mature junipers, about 1.5-9 meters above ground. Sloughed juniper bark is an important nesting material material. Both males and females tend to return to the previously occupied nesting territory.
In migration and winter, golden-cheeked warblers occur mainly in montane pine or pine-oak associations (Vidal et al. 1994) but also in broadleaf associations in lower montane wet and tropical forest (Vannini, in Collar et al. 1992). In Honduras and Guatemala, the species occurs primarily above 1,300 meters in pine-oak forest; dominant pine species was ocote (Pinus oocarpa) and dominant oaks were "encino" oaks (Quercus sapotifolia, Q. eliptica, Q. elongata, and Q. cortesii) (Rappole et al. 1999).
Non-Migrant: No. All populations of this species make significant seasonal migrations.
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).
Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.
Arrives on breeding grounds in early to mid-March (Pulich 1976). Departs on southward migration mid-June; most are gone by end of July, some present to early August (Texas Ornithological Society 1995, Wauer 1996, Ladd and Gass 1999). Reported on wintering grounds in Chiapas, Mexico, from early August to early April (Vidal et al. 1994). Most migrants pass through a narrow Mexican cloud-forest along the eastern slope of the Sierra Madre Oriental (Perrigo et al. 1990, Ehrlich et al. 1992).
The golden-cheeked warbler is entirely insectivorous. Prey items include beetles, soft-bodied caterpillars, deer flies, and spiders. The warbler spends most of its time foraging on foot moving from branch to branch picking insects from the foliage. It forages in the upper two-thirds of its habitat.
Comments: Eats insects (especially soft-bodied caterpillars), and other arthropods in breeding season (Pulich 1976, Kroll 1980). Forages mostly in hardwoods (oaks) on breeding range, in shrubby understory of winter habitat (Kroll 1980). Nonbreeders in Chiapas foraged in the upper half of trees (Vidal et al. 1994).
10,000 - 100,000 individuals
Comments: USFWS (1992) estimated population size in 1990 at 13,800 territories (presumably 27,600 adults). Rich et al.(2004) estimated population size at 21,000; they cited the 1991 and 1992 recovery plans for the black-capped vireo and golden-cheeked warbler, respectively, as the sources for that estimate. Ladd and Gass (1999) estimated population size at 9.644-32.032 adults. Rappole et al. (2003) estimated winter population size at 35,527 individuals, including young birds produced during the previous breeding season.
BREEDING: Territory size reportedly is about 4-8 ha (Kroll 1980) or 1.2-4.0 ha (1990, End. Sp. Tech. Bull. 15:1). At Fort Hood, territories averaged 4.15 ha (Weinberg et al. 1996, cited in Ladd and Gass 1999); In Kendall County, territories were smaller, ranging from 1.27-2.44 hectares, mean 1.72 hectares (n=14; Pulich 1976, cited in Ladd and Gass 1999).
Dispersal distance for adult males (median year-to-year distance between territories) was estimated to be 141 meters (average 223 meters, range 0-3523 meters, n=74; Jette et al. 1998).
Of nine failed nests, 4 or 5 were depredated; rat snakes and Western Scrub-Jays are known to prey on young (Gass 1996).
NON-BREEDING: in Chiapas occurred almost exclusively in mixed-species flocks (Vidal et al. 1994). Species co-occurring most frequently in flocks were Wilson's Warbler (WILSONIA PUSILLA), Black-throated Green Warbler (DENDROICA VIRENS), Hermit Warbler (D. OCCIDENTALIS), Townsend's Warbler (D. TOWNSENDI), and Blue-headed Vireo (VIREO SOLITARIUS) (Rappole et al. 1999).
Life History and Behavior
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Status: wild: 48 months.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
The female golden-cheeked warbler spends approximately 4 days in early April building a compact nest comprised of Ashe juniper bark strips bound with spider webs and grass. Females usually place their nests in the upper two-thirds of nest trees. Ashe juniper is the most common nest tree for the golden-cheeked warbler, but the nests can also be found in oaks, walnuts, pecans, and bald cypress. Females lay clutches of 3-4 creamy white eggs speckled with brown. Incubation is done by the female and lasts 12 days. During incubation D. chrysoparia spends at least 75% of daylight hours on the nest.
Golden-cheeked warbler hatchlings are fed by both the male and the female. Fledging occurs at about 9 days. The fledglings depend upon their parents for at least 4 weeks after leaving the nest.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; oviparous
Eggs are laid mostly April-June (May-June nests evidently represent renesting after failed first tries). Clutch size is 3-5 (usually 4). Incubation, by female, lasts about 12 days. Young are tended by both parents, fledge in about 9 days, may accompant an adult for 30-40 days after fledging. Single-brooded. Nests usually in loose groups of fewer than 6 pairs (sometimes up to 21 pairs) (Pulich 1976). Deserts nest and renests if parasitized by cowbird; renestings tend to more more successful (see Morse 1989).
Dendroica chrysoparia was listed as endangered in May 1990. The population in 1974 was estimated at 15,000 individuals. In 1990 only an estimated 2,200 to 4,600 birds remained. The drastic decline in the golden-cheeked warbler is due primarily to loss of mature Ashe juniper habitat. The expansion of the cities of Austin, San Antonio, and Waco has had a serious impact.
To stop the decline of golden-cheeked warbler habitat, many conservation measures are being implemented. The Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan (BCCP) is a conservation plan that sets up preserves for the golden-cheeked warbler. Another habitat preservation step is the establishment of the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge wants to add at least 41,000 acres onto its already 3,500 acre area for golden-cheeked warbler breeding habitat.
Another threat to the warbler is the brown-headed cowbird. The cowbird exhibits brood parasitism on the warbler by laying eggs in golden-cheeked warbler nests. The cowbird eggs hatch two days before the warblers giving them the advantage over the golden-cheeked warbler hatchlings. The cowbird young develop more rapidly than the golden-cheeked warbler young. This enables the cowbird to take more than an equal share of food brought to the nest.
The increase in cowbird populations is due to human conversion of forests into farms and pastures. Today the cowbird poses a major threat to the species it parasitizes.
US Federal List: endangered
CITES: no special status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: endangered
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N2B - Imperiled
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G2 - Imperiled
Reasons: Small breeding range in central Texas; much breeding and nonbreeding habitat has been destroyed and degraded, and this continues especially in winter range; detrimentally affected by cowbird parasitism; ongoing conservation actions have improved conservation status in recent years.
Global rank needs further review. NatureServe rank estimator version 6.11 yielded a rank of G3 or G4, depending overall threat assessment.
Date Listed: 05/04/1990
Lead Region: Southwest Region (Region 2)
Where Listed: Entire
Population location: Entire
Listing status: E
For most current information and documents related to the conservation status and management of Dendroica chrysoparia , see its USFWS Species Profile
Global Short Term Trend: Unknown
Comments: USFWS (1990) categorized the status as "declining." Overall trend over past 10 years or three generations is not well documented. The population at Fort Hood, Texas, increased steadily from 1992 to 2001; habitat protection and a cowbird-control program might have contributed to the increasing population (Anders and Dearborn 2004).
Global Long Term Trend: Decline of 30-50%
Comments: Over the long term, area of occupancy, population size, and habitat quality have decreased. (USFWS (1992) estimated that the number of territories declined by about 25 percent between 1962 and 1990.
Degree of Threat: Very high - high
Comments: Breeding habitat has diminished due to juniper eradication programs and continuing urbanization (e.g., around Austin, San Antonio, and Waco) (USFWS 1990, 1992). Significant amounts of the remaining breeding habitat is in more or less isolated fragments less than 50 hectares in size; these small patches may support few or no breeding birds despite being apparently otherwise suitable for the species (Wahl et al. 1990).
A primary cause of decline may be habitat loss from logging, firewood extraction, and agricultural conversion for cattle production in pine-oak habitats in southern Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras (USFWS 1992; Ladd and Gass 1999; Rappole et al. 2003, 2005).
This species suffers from heavy cowbird parasitism, which may be increasing as habitat becomes fragmented.
It is potentially threatened by a widespread Mediterranean fruit-fly eradication program (using malathion) proposed for Guatemala (Young, in Collar et al. 1992).
In the USA, it is listed as Endangered and has a recovery plan (Ladd and Gass 1999). There is a cowbird trapping programme in Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge, Texas (Sexton 1997, Ladd and Gass 1999) and regional habitat conservation plans have been approved or are under development in Travis, Hays, Comal, and Williamson counties, Texas (Ladd and Gass 1999, J. Lyons in litt. 1999). Various reserves are managed for the species in Texas (J. Lyons in litt. 1999). Surveys in 1993-1995 improved knowledge of its wintering distribution (Ladd and Gass 1999). It is known or suspected from Rancho Nuevo and Lagunas de Montebello National Parks, Mexico, Sierra de las Minas Biosphere Reserve, Guatemala, and Celaque, Cusuco and Santa Bárbara National Parks, Honduras (Thompson 1995, Ladd and Gass 1999). Currently there is an ongoing effort involving Pronatura Sur, Defensores de la Naturaleza, and Salva Natura to gather information on the warbler south of the US, including details on its wintering habitat, and a community education initiative is underway. Surveys to monitor breeding populations are ongoing. The Leon River Restoration Project in central Texas is working on a habitat restoration project with Golden-cheeked Warbler and Black-capped Vireo as the primary focus. Conservation Actions Proposed
Monitor winter distribution and habitat quality. Monitor breeding populations. Better define ecology and habitat availability (Ladd and Gass 1999). Control cowbird populations where appropriate. Protect a highland pine-oak corridor in Mexico and north Central America (Lyons 1990). Implement community education schemes in the breeding range (Ladd and Gass 1999). Restore connectivity between northern and southern breeding populations to promote gene flow (Lindsay et al. 2006).
Management Requirements: BREEDING: See Diamond et al. (1995) for information on conservation of Ashe juniper woodlands.
NONBREEDING: Appears to be tolerant of moderate timbering and grazing. However, clear-cutting or severe understory reduction by grazing or burning may reduce habitat suitability. Possibly negatively impacted by forest fragmentation because of reduced suitability of fragmented habitat for mixed-species flocks (Rappole et al. 1999).
Global Protection: Many (13-40) occurrences appropriately protected and managed
Comments: Many breeding occurrences are in protected areas or areas that could be managed for golden-winged warblers (USFWS 1992). Habitat conservation plans have been approved or are under development in several Texas counties. The species is known or suspected to occur in Rancho Nuevo and Lagunas de Montebello national parks in Mexico, Sierra de las Minas Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala, and Celaque, Cusuco and Santa Bárbara national parks in Honduras (BirdLife International).
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Implementing conservation steps for the golden-cheeked warbler will cost taxpayers money. Money will also be lost by preserving the land for the warbler instead of using it for homes and industries.
The golden-cheeked warbler is a beautiful bird that could be enjoyed by bird watchers.
Stewardship Overview: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (undated web brochure) summarized recovery efforts as follows. "Research is underway to better understand the life history, habitat requirements, limiting factors, and land management practices affecting the Golden-cheeked Warbler. Population surveys during the breeding season are being conducted in known and potential habitat areas. Efforts to provide information and educational opportunities to landowners and the public regarding life history and habitat requirements of the warbler are also a vital part of the recovery effort. Major recovery efforts are being conducted on Department of Defense's Fort Hood and Camp Bullis, Travis County and the City of Austin's Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services' Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge, and many properties owned and/or managed by the Nature Conservancy. Additionally, Environmental Defense [Fund] through their Safe Harbor Agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is assisting many landowners to manage and/or create habitat for the benefit of the warbler. Voluntary cowbird trapping is being conducted by more than 400 landowners in counties throughout the range of the warbler. Recently, a consortium of researchers in governmental and nongovernmental agencies has proposed a multinational effort to better understand and coordinate approaches to managing and recovering the Golden-cheeked Warbler. Additional research in Mexico and Central America is planned to gather information concerning life history and habitat requirements on the wintering range. Studies are needed to assess the potential for income generating activities, such as selective harvest of juniper, which may be compatible with habitat protection."
The golden-cheeked warbler (Setophaga chrysoparia [formerly Dendroica chrysoparia]), also known as the gold finch of Texas, is an endangered species of bird that breeds in Central Texas, from Palo Pinto County southwestward along the eastern and southern edge of the Edwards Plateau to Kinney County. The golden-cheeked warbler is the only bird species with a breeding range confined to Texas.
Golden-cheeked warblers nest in ashe juniper and live oak trees in ravines and canyons. They use ashe juniper bark and spider webs to build their nests. Females lay three to four eggs. Warblers eat insects and spiders and the adult warbler can reach a length of 4.5 inches. They winter in southern Mexico (Chiapas), Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.
The warbler is endangered, as many juniper and oak woodlands have been cleared to build houses, roads, and stores or to grow crops or grass for livestock. Other woodlands were flooded when large lakes were constructed.
Susan Wittig Albert uses the golden-cheeked warbler as a plot device in her 1992 novel Thyme of Death.
Names and Taxonomy
Comments: Setophaga townsendi, S. occidentalis, S. virens, and S. chrysoparia constitute a superspecies (Mengel 1964). Setophaga townsendi and S. occidentalis hybridize extensively in Washington, where S. townsendi appears to be expanding its range at the expense of S. occidentalis (Rohwer et al. 2001, Krosby and Rohwer 2009) (AOU 2011).
Formerly in the genus Dendroica. Phylogenetic analyses of sequences of mitochondrial and nuclear DNA (Lovette et al. 2010) 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 (AOU 2011).
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