Golden-winged Warbler restoration
|Photos by Mary Bricker|
In an effort to help stop the decline of the Golden-winged Warbler, Geoff Nelson and faculty mentor Dr. Janice Crook-Hill monitored a small population of the birds on Brawley Mountain and studied experimental habitats created prior to their research to assess the habitats’ potential for bolstering the warbler’s numbers.
“Golden-winged warblers are classified as near threatened, and the population is declining throughout most of their range,” Crook-Hill said. “They breed in early-successional habitats, such as abandoned farm fields, abandoned strip mines, and in the south, at higher elevations in areas of disturbed forest. The disturbance in these habitats can be due to natural causes such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and wildfires, or due to human causes such as logging.”
Crook-Hill explained that the warbler has experienced extreme decline due to habitat loss resulting from the suppression of natural forest fires and human development. Georgia is at the southern edge of the warbler’s range, with Brawley Mountain being the only known location in the state to have a breeding population. The United States Forest Service, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, and Audubon Society’s Important Bird Areas Program have joined efforts to restore Golden-winged Warbler habitats on Brawley Mountain through tree removal and prescribed burns.
“We did not find any warblers in the experimental habitats,” Nelson said. “However, we did find four males in power-line cuts and along the road.”
Nelson maintains that this is not necessarily a bad sign, as the birds can be very difficult to locate even in habitats where they are known to exist. Regardless of the results of the study, he still feels the benefits reaped from the program were well worth the effort.
“One of the most important things I learned was the ability to think on my feet in order to deal with logistical issues,” Nelson said. “If any problems came up during the pursuit of our research we quickly had to find a solution. These skills will have a valuable impact on the rest of my college and professional career.”
Crook-Hill agreed with Nelson’s assessment, noting that the project enabled both of them to become immersed in the scientific process to an extent that would not have been possible in the classroom.
“We worked as true collaborators to plan our project and data collection, and then to refine our methods in the field,” Crook-Hill said. “Geoff gained numerous skills in the field as well as in the lab, and we both have been rewarded knowing that our efforts may have an impact on the conservation of a species in decline and will certainly contribute to a broader body of knowledge in avian biology.”