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WVU researchers to study warbler decline

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Two researchers at West Virginia University want to find out why the golden-winged warbler population has declined in recent years.

Petra Wood and Kyle Aldinger plan to conduct a study that they hope will offer solutions to help preserve the songbirds. They will monitor the state's golden-winged warbler population, along with associated bird species living in high elevation pasturelands.

The U.S. Department of Interior Fish and Wildlife has awarded a $16,000 grant for the study.

One likely factor in the golden-winged warble population decline is a change in the birds' breeding habitat, Wood said in a news release.

"Hybridization with blue-winged warblers, a closely related species, as well as nest parasitism by the brown-headed cowbirds also contribute to the problem,'' said Wood, a research biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and adjunct professor of wildlife in the WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design.

The songbirds breed in areas of growing grasses, forbs, shrubs and trees known as early successional habitats where different plants replace one another gradually and regularly. Without maintenance such as mowing or burning, these habitats eventually become forests.

"Even with its recent population decline, West Virginia still represents one of the strongholds of golden-winged warbler populations in the Appalachian region,'' said Aldinger, who is pursuing a doctoral degree in forest resources science. "Since they only breed in early successional habitats and generally at higher elevations greater than 700 meters, their habitats are quite rare and unique in West Virginia as it's predominantly a forested state.''

Aldinger said the information that will be gathered will help guide conservation and habitat management for the songbirds.

 


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