Golden-winged Warbler, a Minnesota bird you’ve might never have seen, is special. This species is as special to Minnesota as any other bird that breeds here, perhaps more so.
That’s because more of these warblers breed in Minnesota than anywhere else in the world.
The bird is very pretty. It’s white and gray and black with golden trimmings. During nesting season, 42 percent of that species is in our woods. Aitkin and Mille Lacs counties, a two-hour drive north from Minneapolis, could be considered ground zero for these birds.
More of them nest there than anywhere else.
Biologists once believed that this warbler preferred and needed willow/aspen swamps and young aspen forest as nesting habitat.
Research in Minnesota in the past three years has shown that things are not that simple. The birds also use mature forest adjacent to those two habitat types. This complicates forest management.
With the mother load of Golden-wings comes a responsibility for those birds, said Carrol Henderson, non-game wildlife manager for the DNR.
Studies of Golden-wings and their habitat needs are currently underway in north and west central Minnesota.
“We’re trying to tease out information from that research to help us write forest management guidelines,” Henderson said. “We’d rather manage the land correctly to begin with than play catch up. It’s easier that way.”
Audubon Minnesota also recognizes our importance to this species. It has named Golden-wings as one of 13 Minnesota Stewardship Species. These 13 species have at least five percent of their global and North American breeding range in the state.
Lee Pfannmuller, interim director of Audubon Minnesota, told me that the Golden-winged Warbler is doing better here than nearly anywhere else.
“It’s long-term population trend in the state is actually increasing,” she wrote in an email, ending the sentence with an exclamation point. (Bird population increases are hard to find.)
Elsewhere in its U.S. range (east from Minnesota into New York and south to Kentucky) Golden-wing population is dropping. Habitat is a concern.
Interestingly, another bird species also bears some responsibility. Blue-winged Warblers interbreed with Golden-wings, those offspring diluting and diminishing Golden-wing numbers.
Habitat in Central America, where the warbler winters, is another problem. It’s thought to be declining. This makes Minnesota research and forest management even more important.
The stewardship list is Audubon Minnesota’s way of saying that these birds deserve particular conservation attention.
The other 12 species (and the percentage of their population breeding here) are American White Pelican (18%), American Woodcock (10%), Baltimore Oriole (5%), Black-billed Cuckoo (10%), Bobolink (13%), Chestnut-sided Warbler (6%), Nashville Warbler (5%), Rose-breasted Grosbeak (6%), Sedge Wren (33%), Trumpeter Swan (13%), and Veery (6%).
A Golden-winged Warbler