Have You Looked for Gold?

Golden-winged Warbler 

by BRUCE RUISARD

When Russel Mumford compiled the list of Birds and History of Jasper Pulaski FWA starting in 1929, some big changes emerged when compared to the present time1.

With 8,000 acres of woods, swamps and lakes, a few birds he mentioned in the past tell the rich story of this “edge of Kankakee marshland.” There were prairie chickens up until 1950, “permanent resident” harriers and both shrike species on a list of “controlled predators.”

The park was changed to promote waterfowl and their most famous visitors Sandhill Cranes, another wonderful bird found here was the Golden-winged Warbler.

Data shows2 Porter County had the most sightings of the Golden-winged warblers in summer and probably nesting with six in 29 years. This area in Dunes State Park recently recorded a hybrid. Jasper Pulaski FWA is a close second with two territorial males in 1984 and two in 1986 and one in 1997. Hybrids found there were a “brewsters” in 1994 and one unidentified singing a Golden-winged song in 2004. Other counties reported a few for a year or two.

Amos Butler called them fairly common and summer residents in the upper third of Indiana. He even mentioned their decline as do many books today. His book was published in 1898 when extensive prairies and swamps remained.

Golden-winged Warblers are a jewel of a bird. Black marks on head, yellow crown and yellow wing patch, rest of wings look silvery. Female is a faded version of the male. Song sounds like bee-bz-bz-bz. Hybrids have more yellow belly like a Blue-winged Warbler.

This bird you would think would be more common because overgrown grasslands often exist without them. Some are still found in Appalachian Mountains, some in Ontario, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and New York.  Northern Indiana is about their Midwest limit to their range.

They live in grassy areas with tree borders. Goldenrod is a key plant — along with briars and very small trees. They nest on the ground in the grass where four to five eggs are laid. They eat small insects and larvae. Burning can maintain their changing habitat. If trees get too big, they leave and Blue-winged Warblers take over which can live in open woods.

Golden-winged warblers are “habitat specialists”2 while Blue-winged Warblers are “habitat generalists”. Here are a few conclusions from the Confer and Knapp study cited: only abandoned farm land produces suitable habitat and that trend is revered today or woods have taken over, They compared Kirtland’s warbler with their enemy the Cowbird controlled. Blue-winged Warblers may need to be collected in some areas and moved to protect a key nesting area.

Like our friend the Bobwhite quail, they say Golden-winged Warblers are “highly influenced by man’s activities”. A few effective management techniques may help save these beautiful warblers.

1 A preliminary, annotated list of the Birds of JP The Indiana Audubon Vol. 60 No. 3 p. 106-125
2 1983-201 Summer Bird Count Data IAS Quarterlies
3 Golden-winged Warblers and Blue-winged Warblers The Auk 90: 108-114 1981
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