One of the earliest migrating warblers, the prothonotary warbler brings its bright golden plumage to the swamps of the eastern United States each year, and unlike most warblers, nests in cavities and is known to occasionally use bird houses.
Prothonotary Warbler, Golden Swamp Warbler
- Bill: Long, straight, black
- Size: 5.25 inches long with 8.5-inch wingspan, short tail, large eyes
- Colors: Yellow, olive-green, blue-gray, white, orange
- Markings: Dimorphic species. Males have a bright yellow head, chest and abdomen, olive-green back and plain blue-gray wings. The blue-gray tail shows white patches in flight, and the undertail coverts are white. Rarely males will be bright orange-yellow rather than plain yellow. Females are less bright, with an olive wash on the head and nape and a white abdomen and a paler bill. Both genders have dark legs and feet.
Insects, spiders, seeds, mollusks
Habitat and Migration:
These warblers are found in wet marshes, mangrove swamps, flooded woodlands and similar habitats. In summer, their breeding range includes most of the eastern United States from central Wisconsin and Michigan to central Texas and Florida, though they are absent from the driest areas and the upper Appalachian Mountains. Vagrant birds are regularly reported much further north and west. These birds migrate through the Caribbean to their winter grounds in central and eastern Mexico south to Colombia and Venezuela, as well as further east along the northern coast of South America.
Prothonotary warblers are noisy birds with a high, piercing single "chip" call. Their song is a rapid series of high "chip-chip-chip-chip" notes, often sung from high perches or while in flight.
These birds are found alone or in pairs during the breeding season, when they will aggressively chase competitors away from their nesting area. In winter, they are gregarious and will congregate in small flocks. While feeding, prothonotary warblers glean insects by slowly and meticulously moving along a tree limb or fallen log to pick into crevices.
These are monogamous birds and the female will incubate a brood for 12-14 days after the 3-7 eggs are laid. The altricial young are fed by both parents for an additional 11-12 days until their first flight. A pair of prothonotary warblers will raise 1-2 broods per year, with two broods most common in the southern part of their range.
Attracting Prothonotary Warblers:
These are the only eastern warblers that will use bird houses, particularly if the houses are placed in a wet area with plenty of trees or fallen logs for foraging. Preserving swamps and flooded areas is essential for these birds, and in the field they will respond to pishing.
- Yellow Warbler (Dendroica petechia)
- Blue-Winged Warbler (Vermivora pinus)