Already a subscriber? Sign in Don't have a subscription? Subscribe Now
Golden-cheeked Warbler
Setophaga chrysoparia
– Family
Authors: Ladd, Clifton, and Leila Gass

Welcome to the Birds of North America Online!

Welcome to BNA Online, the leading source of life history information for North American breeding birds. This free, courtesy preview is just the first of 14 articles that provide detailed life history information including Distribution, Migration, Habitat, Food Habits, Sounds, Behavior and Breeding. Written by acknowledged experts on each species, there is also a comprehensive bibliography of published research on the species.

A subscription is needed to access the remaining articles for this and any other species. Subscription rates start as low as $5 USD for 30 days of complete access to the resource. To subscribe, please visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology E-Store.

If you are already a current subscriber, you will need to sign in with your login information to access BNA normally.

Subscriptions are available for as little as $5 for 30 days of full access! If you would like to subscribe to BNA Online, just visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology E-Store.


Golden-cheeked Warbler, breeding adult male.
Figure 1. Distribution of the Golden-cheeked Warbler.

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 1907, Bent 1953, Pulich 1976). The oldest literature is full of accounts of collecting expeditions and descriptions of collected nests and eggs (Brewster 1879; Brown 1882, 1884; Norris 1887, 1889; Tallichet 1892). Since publication of Bent’s (1953) account, much has been added to our knowledge of the species’ life history, distribution, and habitat, especially by Pulich’s (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 1992, 1994; Weinberg et al. 1995, 1996; Jetté et al. 1998) and the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge and Barton Creek Habitat Preserve (Keddy-Hector 1995; D. P. Keddy-Hector, D. D. Diamond, and D. R. Hernandez unpubl.). Winter distribution and habitat use have been studied by Vidal et al. (1994) and 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 (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 (FWS 1990a, 1990b, 1990c). Conservation of the species remains a contentious issue through much of the hill country of central Texas.