• Jeff

Prothonotary Warbler

Updated: May 14, 2021

The oldest recorded Prothonotary Warbler was a male, and at least 8 years, 1 month old when he was identified by his band in Ontario in 2005. He had been banded in the same area in 1999. This guy flew in last night with what looked like a mate. I was unable to catch the female.

Finding a Prothonotary Warbler means finding the right habitat. They’re most numerous in the Southeast, where you may find them in swamps and bottomland forests. But they also use forests along rivers such as the Mississippi, so they occur farther north than you might expect in Wisconsin and all the way north to New Hampshire along other rivers. Once you find the right spot, head towards water and start looking for a bright yellow bird in the understory. They tend to stay low in the forest and often forage above water and along shorelines. These bright yellow birds are conspicuous, and their loud ringing song can help guide you to them even before you see them. The best times to look for them in the U.S. are from April–July.

The Prothonotary Warbler got its name from the bright yellow robes worn by papal clerks, known as prothonotaries, in the Roman Catholic church.

The brilliant Prothonotary Warbler bounces along branches like a golden flashlight in the dim understory of swampy woodlands. This golden ray of light is unique among warblers with its beady black eye and blue-gray wings. It is also one of two warblers that build their nests in holes in standing dead trees. Often called a "swamp warbler" in the southeast, it also occurs surprisingly far to the north along rivers. Its population is declining, due to loss of forested wetlands in the U.S. and mangroves on its wintering grounds.

Pictures by Jeff from my backyard. Canon SX70HS

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