SCIENTIFIC NAME: Dendroica chrysoparia
HABITAT: Mixed Ashe juniper and oak woodlands
LIFE HISTORY: Migratory; spends most of the year in mid- to high-elevation pine-oak forests in Latin America, but returns exclusively to Texas to breed, March through July.
THREATS: Habitat loss due to development; predation from non-native species such as blue jays and domestic cats
BREEDING RANGE: Edwards Plateau in central Texas
CURRENT POPULATION: 2,100
Birders from all over the world come to Texas to catch a glimpse of this rare, bright-faced songbird. The golden-cheeked warbler breeds only in the Edwards Plateau of central Texas, making its nest from bark peeled off Ashe juniper trees, sewn together with cobwebs.
Ashe juniper trees, however, are also used by humans for fencing and fuel, and are cleared out to make way for grazing and suburban sprawl. As juniper trees fall, so does the warbler population, dropping from an estimated 15,000 to 17,000 in 1974 to 2,200 to 4,600 in 1990. The birds are also under attack from predators like blue jays and house cats, whose numbers are increasing with suburban sprawl. The golden-cheeked warbler has been on the endangered species list since 1990.
Conservationists, local officials in Texas and even the U.S. Army worked to develop habitat conservation plans to protect the golden-cheeked warbler and other wildlife that depend upon the juniper forest of central Texas. Conservation management guidelines for private landowners are also in the works. In addition, the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge features 3,500 acres of golden-cheeked warbler habitat, offering safe haven for the bird on federal land.
Photos: Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge © John & Karen Hollingsworth/Digital Library Service, USFWS; Chiricahua Leopard Frog © USFWS; Apache trout © John Rinne, USFWS; golden cheeked warbler © Steve Maslowski, USFWS