Like many birds, the golden-cheeked warbler is named for the male’s plumage, the females and juveniles being somewhat duller in appearance. Breeding only in central Texas, the birds only nest in mixed juniper-oak woodland, which is typically found in limestone canyons and hills. They migrate to Texas beginning in early March, then start departing for their wintering ground in Mexico and Central America by July. In southern Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, golden-cheeked warblers winter almost exclusively in flocks of mixed songbirds that include Wilson’s warblers, black-throated green warblers, hermit warblers, Townsend’s warblers and blue-headed vireos.
Usually building a nest in the upright fork of a mature juniper, the birds lay a clutch of three to five eggs in April, though they may breed as late as June. The female incubates the eggs for about 12 days. Both parents tend the nestlings, which fledge in about 9-12 days, though they may accompany an adult for 30 or more days after fledging.
Federally endangered in the United States and listed as endangered by the IUCN, the golden-cheeked warbler is threatened by habitat degradation and loss due to agricultural land-clearing and urbanization. Additional threats to the species or its breeding habitat include catastrophic wildfire, nest parasitism by cowbirds, and oak wilt. Habitat loss within their winter range is primarily attributable to agricultural land-clearing and timber extraction.
The Nature Conservancy is actively protecting habitat for the rare bird at the Barton Creek Habitat Preserve and Love Creek Preserve. The Nature Conservancy also participates in numerous private and public partnerships aimed at preserving essential breeding habitat such as our community-based conservation work along the Blanco, Pedernales, Frio, and Nueces and Sabinal Rivers.