Named for the bright yellow markings on the bird’s head, the golden-cheeked warbler is a Neotropical migratory songbird. It breeds and raises its young in the Ashe juniper and oak woodlands of central Texas from March to July, and then flies to the mountain pine and oak forests of southern Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras for the winter months. All golden-cheeked warblers are born in Texas, so the state plays a vital role in its survival. 

The females use the long strips of bark from mature Ashe juniper trees as the main material for nest building. This species eats worms and insects found in the mixed oak and Ashe juniper trees of the Edwards Plateau.

The warbler was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 1990, due to the dramatic reduction in its habitat. Unfortunately, since that time, even more of its habitat has been lost or fragmented.

Defenders' Impact

Defenders is working in partnership with a network of organizations, landowners, and government agencies to protect prime golden-cheeked warbler Ashe juniper – oak woodlands on the Edwards Plateau of central Texas, known as the Hill Country. This includes outreach and engagement to change long-held beliefs that the juniper is invasive and bad for the ecosystem. Healthy woodlands not only provide habitat for warblers, but they also help with soil generation and stabilization, carbon capture and aquifer recharge. Warbler habitat protection also benefits the endangered salamanders that live in the caves and streams beneath the same juniper and oak habitat. These woodlands will become even more important as the state struggles to adapt to impacts from climate change like drought. 

We work to influence long-term regional planning that can help ensure breeding habitat for this migratory songbird as well as sufficient water and sustainable communities for the Texas Hill Country. 

Threats

The golden-cheeked warbler is threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation in its Central Texas breeding grounds and its wintering sites in the pine-oak forests of Mexico and Central America. As the metropolitan area from Austin to San Antonio expands west into the Texas Hill Country, this urban growth is drastically reducing the prime Ashe juniper – oak woodlands the warbler needs for breeding and foraging. The habitat fragmentation also allows predators to reach the warblers and their nests more easily.

Protection Status
Endangered Species Act
IUCN Red List
 Endangered
 Endangered
What You Can Do

Protect migrating birds by keeping your cats indoors, making windows safe and participating in local Lights Out actions. Help protect habitat by maintaining old-growth Ashe junipers on your land and supporting your local parks and conservation organizations in protecting warbler habitat. Help dispel the myth that Ashe juniper is bad for the region by sharing information about its benefits and sharing your understanding of golden-cheeked warblers and their habitat with your friends and family. Participate in community science efforts to document warbler sightings in eBird. Drink bird-friendly, shade-gown coffee to help protect wintering habitat. 

Facts
Latin Name
Setophaga chrysoparia
Size
Medium-sized wood-warbler; length about 12-13 cm (5”), mass about 10 g; sexes similar in size and weight.
Lifespan
Unknown. Researchers at Fort Hood, TX have observed individual males breeding for 8 years and 1 female has bred for 4 years.
Range/Habitat

The golden-cheeked warbler breeds exclusively in Texas, in old-growth and mature regrowth juniper-oak woodlands in the Texas Hill Country, and winters in the mountain pine and oak forests of southern Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

Population

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the golden-cheeked warbler population dropped by 25% since it was listed as endangered in 1990, to about 27,000 birds in 2019. 

Behavior

Hops between branches and occasionally on ground while foraging.

Reproduction

Males usually reach the breeding grounds in central Texas before the females and begin establishing territories. Females begin building nests mid-late March, 2-5 days after arrival on central Texas. The first clutch is initiated late March to early April and a second brood may be initiated in May. Nests usually are built in Ashe junipers or various hardwoods in closed-canopy woodland, both in canyons and on upland plateau areas. The female usually lays 3-4 eggs, and the incubation period is from 10-12 days.

Diet

Insects, spiders, and other arthropods during breeding season.

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