Audubon sponsors study of endangered warbler

out audubonOne of the most prized bringers of spring song in Western North Carolina is the golden-winged warbler, and Highlands Plateau Audubon Society has awarded a grant to help increase human knowledge of these beautiful and endangered birds. 

Graduate student Jamie Harrelson, of Western Carolina University, will conduct a two-part study at sites in private and national forest land in Macon, Jackson, Haywood, Graham and Clay counties. The project will assess known and potential golden-winged warbler sites and look at how male aggression relates to population density and habitat quality. Her work will help fill in some holes about where this species can be found in this region, as well as in understanding critical aspects of their behavior as it relates to their surroundings. 

Research suggests that the majority of golden-wings nesting in North Carolina travel from their wintering grounds in the South American country of Colombia, typically returning to the same areas year after year to raise their young. 

However, golden-wings have been declining throughout their range. They prefer to breed in areas with a mix of grassy fields and hardwood forest edges. Appalachian forests are becoming older on average, so this habitat is declining. As the golden-wings become increasingly rare, their importance as a conservation target for Audubon and the state of North Carolina also increases. 

Through her project, Harrelson hopes “to engage private landowners in discussions about habitat management techniques that increase availability of suitable breeding habitat for the species. Conservation of golden-winged warblers across their breeding range depends on appropriate habitat management on both public and private lands.” 

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