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The golden-cheeked warbler, also known as the goldfinch of Texas, is an endangered species of bird that only breeds in Central Texas. Free use photo

Exploring Nature: Golden-Cheeked Warbler

Sunday, April 14, 2019

We are blessed to live in a part of Texas that is home to a splendid little bird that nests here and in no other place in the world. That bird is the golden-cheeked warbler.

Its scientific name is setophaga chrysoparia and it is also known as the goldfinch of Texas, but whatever it is called, it is one beautiful creature. And quite wellnamed, since the male has bright yellow cheeks along with a grayish body.

It only breeds in Texas, so each warbler is a native Texan. Each is also an endangered species, as designated by the federal government. Between 1999 and 2011, some 15 million acres, about a third of its territory, have been gobbled up by suburban sprawl.

A wood warbler, weighing a third of an ounce, this bird prefers to live in mature juniper-oak woods and it builds its nest from bark strips from Ashe juniper, combined with spider webs, lichens, mosses, leaves and grass. It never feeds on the ground, preferring to dine on insects on juniper foliage and insects caught in the air.

The mother bird carefully removes the wings from moths before feeding them to her young. While only the female incubates the eggs, both parents will feed the young.

This warbler winters in Mexico and Central America, returning to Central Texas at the end of March to raise a family.

A federal court ruled last February that the golden-cheeked warbler has not recovered sufficiently to be removed from the endangered list. In addition to habitat loss, the warbler is endangered by the brown cowbird, that lays its eggs in the warbler’s nest and the unwitting mother warbler hatches babies almost larger than she is.