When the golden-cheeked warblers migrate to Central Texas in mid March, mature males arrive first and establish and defend territories by singing. The boundary delineated by each male’s song marks an area approximately three to six acres in size from which the male will exclude other males and attempt to attract a female. Studies using banding have shown that upon arriving from Central America each breeding season, male warblers will often occupy the same territory as before.
Once attracted, female warblers will weave a cup-shaped nest using strips of juniper bark and spider webs. The nests are placed an average of fifteen feet in the air in the fork of vertical tree limbs, where they are camouflaged to blend in with the bark of the tree. From late March to mid April, the female warbler will lay and incubate a clutch of three to four eggs. The eggs hatch in twelve days, after which both parents will care for the young. The nestlings will begin to fly after eight or nine days, but will remain in the territory for at least four weeks. It is advantageous for the young birds to leave the nest as soon as possible to minimize their predation by animals that target the nests.
Golden-cheeked warblers will usually nest only once per season. If the nest is lost to accident or predation, the female will sometimes lay a second clutch. Common nest predators that prey upon eggs and nestlings include blue and scrub jays, opossums, squirrels, raccoons, rat snakes, and coachwhip snakes. Two other species that can create problems for nesting warblers are imported red fire ants and brown-headed cowbirds. Fire ants prey upon warbler nestlings and can also cause the female warbler to abandon the nest by stinging her brood patch. The cowbird is a nest parasite that lays its own eggs in the nests of other birds, causing the warbler to either abandon the nest or raise the cowbird young which can often outcompete its own young. Recreational activities can also disturb warbler nesting, causing a decrease in abundance and nest survival.