American Bird Conservancy and the Minnesota Outdoor Heritage Fund

The Outdoor Heritage Fund (OHF)


The Golden-winged Warbler in Minnesota

In a race to keep the Golden-winged Warbler off the federal endangered species list, ABC and its partners identified the need to create and maintain high-quality habitat for Golden-winged Warblers across the species' breeding range in the United States. Target areas include over 5 million acres of deciduous forest habitat in northern Minnesota. The state is integral to this songbird's survival, with up to half of the remaining breeding population residing there each summer — the largest remaining breeding population in any U.S. state or Canadian province.

A Neotropical migrant that spends its winters in Central and South America, the Golden-winged Warbler has suffered one of the steepest population declines of any songbird species in North America, across its range falling 2.5 percent annually between 1966 and 2014, with a total decline of 6 to 70 percent. That decline is due primarily to habitat loss and land-use change, particularly the reduction of early-successional, or “young forest,” breeding habitat within a contiguous forest matrix of diverse ages.

In these habitats, the Golden-winged Warbler is a ground nester that rears its brood in young forest or brushland patches before moving into adjacent older deciduous forest once the chicks have fledged. As part of a full-life-cycle conservation initiative, ABC works with partners to restore and conserve Golden-winged Warbler breeding habitat throughout the Great Lakes region and Appalachia, as well as at migratory stopover sites and wintering grounds in Central and South America.

The Golden-winged Warbler is listed as a Species in Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) in the Minnesota State Wildlife Action Plan, as a Minnesota Stewardship Species by Minnesota Audubon, as a Partners in Flight Tri-National Concern species, and is on the 2016 State of the Birds Watch List. Maintaining or increasing the state's population is critical to keeping the species off the endangered species list in the future. Furthermore, other young-forest avian species benefit from this habitat work, including the American Woodcock, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Eastern Towhee, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Veery, and Black-billed Cuckoo.

In 2013, ABC received funding for a MN OHF habitat enhancement project entitled “Young Forest Conservation” to implement science-based Golden-winged Warbler best management practices to restore and maintain young-forest/brushland habitat in noncommercial forest-cover types. The aim was to help sustain the Golden-winged Warbler population in the state, as well as to benefit populations of more than 20 other game and non-game Species in Greatest Conservation Need. (See photos for before, during, and after views of our work. Photos by Peter Dieser.)

In 2016, ABC received funding for Phase II of the “Young Forest Conservation” initiative to continue to complete habitat projects for the Golden-winged Warbler and associated early-successional habitat wildlife species through 2021.

ABC's OHF Successes to Date

  • MN OHF Phase I Final Completed Project Acres: 2,581 acres
  • MN OHF Phase II Final Completed Project Acres: 4,474 acres
  • MN OHF Phase III Completed Project Acres (to date): 1,441 acres
  • Thanks to OHF funding, ABC Public Lands Coordinator Peter Dieser has completed projects in partnership with 13 Minnesota Department of Natural Resources area wildlife offices, eight Minnesota County land departments, two U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service national wildlife refuges, the Red Lake Band of the Chippewa, the Chippewa National Forest, and the Superior National Forest. Projects have been successfully completed in 14 Minnesota counties.
  • ABC has also completed an additional 47 acres using Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act (NMBCA) grant funds, and completed an additional 46 acres using National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) grant funds. This brings the total number of acres enhanced and conserved since July 2013 on Minnesota public lands to 8,589.
  • Minnesota Golden-winged Warbler Public and Private Lands Coordinators have also taught young-forest best management practices (BMPs) to natural resource managers and private citizens at educational workshops in partnerships with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Minnesota Forestry Association, Minnesota County Land departments, The Wildlife Society, The Forest Stewards Guild, and the Minnesota Logger Education Program.
  • With technical assistance from The Conservation Fund and funding provided by the MN OHF, ABC acquired 480 acres for expansion of Four Brooks Wildlife Management Area using MN OHF funding provided in Phase I. Ownership was transferred to the State of Minnesota.
Left to right: Al Pemberton, Director, Red Lake DNR; Scott Abel, GIS Specialist, Red Lake DNR; ABC's Peter Dieser, Minnesota Public Lands Coordinator; Kent Sundseth, Refuge Manager, USFWS Tamarac NWR. Photo by Sara Ruffing, Red Lake DNR.

Thanks to the MN OHF, ABC is able to make habitat conservation and enhancement a reality for the Golden-winged Warbler and other species of concern in Minnesota.