New Songbird Habitat Study Unlocks Benefits for the Monarch Butterfly

A new study reveals that managing habitat for songbirds like the golden-winged warbler also benefits insect pollinators like the at-risk monarch butterfly.

Exploring the young forests and shrublands within the eastern deciduous forests of the United States, this study, which was highlighted in a Science to Solutions report by the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, thoroughly unravels the co-benefits that managing for early-successional habitat offers to both the golden-winged warbler and monarch butterfly. Managing for forest-age diversity improves the overall long-term health of forest communities and wildlife habitat. This research will help USDA strengthen conservation solutions for the Monarch butterfly and other pollinators.

Common management solutions promoting early-successional communities like shrublands and young forests, are expensive, due to the management tools needed to simulate natural disturbances like wildfire, beaver activity, and severe weather that revert older sites to early-successional young forest conditions. 

To combat these challenges, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) offers cost-effective management tools and technical assistance to private landowners through the Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW) initiative.

WLFW offers management planning to improve forest stand quality and structure while promoting conservation benefits for specific wildlife species, which may also impact non-focal species. In this case, the golden-winged warbler is a focal species for multiple NRCS working lands programs in the Appalachian Mountains and Great Lakes, and shares common habitat goals with pollinators, including butterflies and native bees.

The report outlines several recent studies that assessed how pollinator species respond to avian-focused early successional habitat management in the Great Lakes and provides evidence that breeding habitat management efforts for the Warbler not only benefit pollinators but also many other non-focal species of conservation concern, including the American Woodcock and Eastern Whip-poor-will.

The monarch butterfly populations have declined significantly over the past few decades due to critical population stressors, including reductions in milkweed and nectar plant availability, driven by the loss and degradation of habitat across its range. 

This drastic decline has sparked concerted efforts to create and enhance monarch habitat. The studies found that abundant blooming plants within forested landscapes, with emergent herbaceous wetlands nearby, combine habitat components for pollinators by containing pollen and nectar at a single site. Given that many disturbance-dependent flowering herbaceous plants like goldenrod colonize recently managed golden-winged warbler sites, coupling insect pollinators with warbler habitat creation benefits multiple species.

NRCS continues to offer this multispecies benefits approach through its working lands initiative, which nets a win-win for songbirds, pollinators, and owners and operators of working forests.

Learn more about NRCS conservation outcomes for the golden-winged warbler by watching “Outcomes from NRCS Golden-Winger Warbler Conservation Efforts” or how NRCS can help you create or enhance habitat for monarch butterflies on your working lands.

More Information:

NRCS will host a free, one-hour Conservation Outcomes Webinar during National Pollinator Week that shares findings on the value of voluntary conservation practices to support pollinators nationwide. Additional details are available on the Conservation Outcomes Webinar Series webpage, including instructions to join on June 20.