Manitoba’s unique golden-winged warbler population threatened by blue-winged mates: study – Manitoba

The long-term survival of a unique bird that calls Manitoba home is being threatened by the fact the species is finding love with blue-winged mates, a new study shows.

The province is home to the golden-winged warblers and until recently, it was believed to host one of the most genetically pure populations of the songbird in the world.

But a study from the University of Manitoba published in the Conservation Genetics journal says that some of the beautiful little birds are also carrying blue-winged warbler DNA.

“When they hybridize with the blue-winged warbler, in almost all previous populations within 50 years, the blue-winged warblers have almost completely taken over and the golden-winged warblers disappear,” said Nicola Koper, a professor in the University of Manitoba Natural Resources Institute who supervised the research, on CBC Radio’s Weekend Morning Show.

“So the fact we’ve started to find the blue-winged warbler DNA in Manitoba’s population makes us concerned about it.”

Golden-winged warblers are about the size of a chickadee, with a golden cap, gold bars on their wings and a little black face and throat. When they are nearby, the birds make a soft buzzing sound like an insect.

Golden-winged warbler populations have been declining for decades, largely due to habitat loss. However, when its home starts to disappear, the bird begins to interbreed with the closely-related species, the blue-winged warbler. They are breeding with the blue-winged mates somewhere in the United States, probably Minnesota or Wisconsin, Koper said.

In places around the world, that’s led to the golden bird disappearing while the blue-winged warbler population dominates.

“In some populations, in as little as 10 years, the golden-winged warblers have disappeared completely,” Koper said.

To help keep the species going, Koper said it’s good to set the mood for their mating by making their habitat ideal. The birds, which mostly live in the boreal transition zone of southeastern Manitoba, central Interlake and the areas around Riding Mountain and Porcupine Hills, need their forest habitat to be protected.

“We are looking forward to working with Manitoba [Sustainable Development],” she said.

“We have to decide as a society what kind of world we want to live in. Personally, I really want to live in a world that has beautiful wildlife and the golden-winged warbler is one of those types of wildlife.”

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