Grayish above; white below; yellow crown and wing patches; throat and ear patch black bordered by white in males, gray in females); white spots on the underside of the tail. 12 cm (4.75 in) in length. The song of this species is a low, soft, buzzing song that sounds like be-bzz-bzz-bzz.
The breeding season begins in mid-May and extends to late June. The nest is commonly on the ground, hidden among the grass or against the trunk of a tree. Rarely, the nest is woven among the vegetation, and then it is only placed a few inches above the ground. The nest is cup-shaped and built out of grasses and strips of grapevine bark. The female lays 4-7 (usually 4-5) eggs that she incubates for 10 days. The young are altricial and fledge 9-10 days after hatching.
The Golden-winged Warbler uses primarily habitats that are in early successional areas such as shrubby vegetation found along streams, wet fields with shrubby vegetation, power line right-of-ways, and some cut-over areas. The diet consists of insects and spiders found on leaves and branches. It forages by moving among the branches gathering the food that it finds. It also searches clusters of dead leaves to find the insects hiding within.
The Golden-winged Warbler summer range is limited mostly to upper elevations and northern parts of the eastern United States. During the breeding season, it can be found in the Southern Appalachians, and during migration it can be seen throughout Georgia. The winter range is from southern Mexico, through Central America, and into northern South America.
Populations of this species fluctuate as early successional areas mature and new early successional areas are created. This species is Of Special Concern in most of the Southeast. Its decline is attributed to loss of early successional habitat because of elimination of field edges and other land use changes, and competition from the more dominant Blue-winged Warbler, which has been taking over its habitat. Another problem for this species is parasitism by the Brown-headed Cowbird. The Brown-headed Cowbird lays its eggs in other birds' nests and relies on those other birds to raise its young. Most songbird species, including the Golden-winged Warbler, are a host to cowbird eggs and young. The cowbird young usually hatch sooner and grow faster than the host young. In a warbler's nest, if the cowbird egg hatches first most host eggs will not hatch or the young will not survive.
In the East, the most similar species is the Blue-winged Warbler, although many warblers are similar in size and body shape. The Blue-winged Warbler is mostly yellow, with slate-gray wings and tail, and has two wing bars and a black eye stripe. The song of the Blue-winged Warbler is similar to the Golden-wing Warbler's but shorter. Its low, soft, buzzing song sounds like be-bzz. The Blue-winged Warbler and Golden-winged Warbler interbreed and produce two hybrids called the Brewster's Warbler and Lawrence's Warbler. The Brewster's Warbler - the more common of the two hybrids - has the black eye stripe, a yellow crown, a variety of yellow throughout the body, grayish wings and tail, and two yellowish wing bars. The Lawrence's Warbler has the black ear patch and throat, variable yellow throughout the body, grayish wings and tail, and two yellowish wing bars.