Who we study:

Golden-winged warblers

Golden-winged warblers are much-loved Neotropical migrants that breed in scrubby secondary growth habitats in eastern North America, from the higher elevations in the Appalachians to Manitoba. Their buzzy songs and striking plumage make them one of the more sought after North American wood warblers by birders. Unfortunately, populations of the golden-winged warbler have experienced significant declines in recent decades, likely due to habitat loss on their wintering grounds in Central and South America.

Blue-winged warblers

Blue-winged warblers are also Neotropical migrants that breed in similar habitats to golden-winged warblers, scrubby secondary growth. Their similar ecology and behavior led John James Audubon to wonder if blue-wined and golden winged warblers were the same species, even though they have such different plumage. Our recent research has made the question posed by Audubon particularly interesting.

Art by Liz Clayton Fuller.

What we study:

Our collaborative work on warblers is primarily led by Dr. David Toews and his group at Pennsylvania State University as a part of their research on the diversification in the New World wood warblers. This group of birds – beloved by scientists and birders alike – has been a generous source of insights into hard-to-answer questions and cutting-edge studies for centuries. Hybridization is commonly observed between a number of warbler species and, while this does not make it easier to identify different species in the field, it opens up many opportunities to study the nature of population boundaries and search for genes that underly them.

Golden-winged and blue-winged warblers are closely related birds and they hybridize extensively where their breeding ranges overlap. By sequencing whole genomes from multiple individuals our research has shown that they have a long evolutionary history of hybridization. This long history of hybridization is like a crossing experiment performed in the lab (think Mendel’s peas), but happening in nature! We have taken advantage of this natural admixture experiment to identify genes that underlie plumage differences as well as differences in migration within the Vermivora genus and we continue to collaborate on this work with multiple labs.

In the Press

Science Daily Discovery: Rare three-species hybrid warbler​

F1000PrimePlumage genes and little else distinguish the genomes of hybridizing warblers.

Science Daily Warbler genomes look to be 99.97 percent alike​


The Wildlife Society Blue-winged, golden-winged warblers not all that different​

Living Bird Golden-Winged And Blue-Winged Warblers Are 99.97 Percent Alike Genetically​

Phys.org Warbler genomes look to be 99.97 percent alike​

10,000 Birds A Lump And A Split And The List Is Shredded?

Colorado Arts and Sciences Magazine Declining warblers making the best of bad situation: The discovery of a rare three-species warbler hybrid suggests bird species in sharp decline are struggling to find suitable mates

Cornell Chronicle Warbler genomes look to be 99.97 percent alike​

BirdWatching Magazine Golden-winged Warbler and Blue-winged Warbler are remarkably similar

The Wildlife Society Blue-winged, golden-winged warblers not all that different​



Toews DPL, Bai MD, Kramer GR, Lovette IJ, Streby H, Taylor SA. Accepted. Extensive historical and contemporary hybridization suggests pre-mating isolation in Vermivora warblers is not strong: a reply to Confer et al. Ecology and Evolution.


Baiz MD, Kramer GR, Streby HM, Taylor SA, Lovette IJ, Toews DPL. 2020. Genomic and plumage variation in Vermivora hybrids. The Auk: Ornithological Advances. 137:
ukaa027, https://doi.org/10.1093/auk/ukaa027


Toews DPL, Taylor SA, Streby H, Kramer G, Lovette IJ. 2019. Selection on VPS13A linked to migration in a songbird. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 116: 18272-18274

Toews DPL, Streby H, Burket L, Taylor SA. 2018. A wood-warbler produced through both interspecific and intergeneric hybridization. Biology Letters 14: 20180557. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsbl.2018.0557


+Toews DPL, +Taylor SA, Vallender R, Brelsford A, Butcher BG, Messer PW, Lovette IJ. 2016. Plumage genes and little else distinguish the genomes of hybridizing warblers. Current Biology 26: 2313-2318​. +Authors contributed equally. Recommended by Faculty of 1000. PDF