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Prothonotary Warbler

Protonotaria citrea ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: PARULIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

A brilliant yellow-orange bird of southeastern wooded swamps, the Prothonotary Warbler is a striking sight.

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At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Other Names
  • Paruline orangée (French)
  • Chipe dorado, Reinita Calecidorada (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • The Prothonotary Warbler is one of only two warbler species that nest in cavities. (Lucy's Warbler is the other.)
  • Go here to take a look at what goes on inside a Prothonotary Warbler nest, through the help of a Nest Box Cam provided by The Birdhouse Network at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
  • The name "Prothonotary" refers to clerks in the Roman Catholic church, whose robes were bright yellow.

Habitat


Forest

Prothonotary Warblers breed in wooded swamps and other bottomland forests. Characteristic tree species include willows, sweet gum, willow oak, black gum, tupelo, bald cypress, elms, and river birch. On their wintering grounds Prothonotary Warblers are abundant in mangrove forests.

Food


Insects

Prothonotary Warblers feed on butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, mayflies, and spiders throughout the year. They also eat mollusks and isopods outside of the breeding season, and may even supplement their diet with seeds, fruit, or nectar.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
3–7 eggs
Number of Broods
1-3 broods
Egg Length
0.7–0.7 in
1.8–1.9 cm
Egg Width
0.6–0.6 in
1.4–1.5 cm
Incubation Period
12–14 days
Nestling Period
9–10 days
Egg Description
White spotted with rust-brown to lavender.
Condition at Hatching
Helpless, eyes closed, with minimal down.
Nest Description

Males select at least one cavity and place moss inside prior to attracting a mate. Females then build the remainder of the nest with a foundation of mosses or liverwort. The nest cup is made of rootlets, plant down, grape plants, or cypress bark lined with grasses, sedges, tendrils, rootlets, leaves, petioles, poison ivy, and even fishing line. The nest cup is about 2 inches wide.

Nest Placement

Cavity

Prothonotary Warblers place their nests in low cavities such as old Downy Woodpecker holes. Bald cypress, willows, and sweet gum are regular trees used for nesting and cavities tend to be in trees located near or over standing water. These warblers sometimes use bird boxes, gourds, and cypress knees for nesting.

Behavior


Bark Forager

During the breeding season male Prothonotary Warblers defend territories by chasing away intruders or snapping their bills. Females may enter into bill-snapping disputes with other females as well. In flight they tend to stay below the canopy, but some birds also fly above trees when singing a lengthy song. Prothonotary Warblers forage by hopping in vegetation or on the ground and sometimes climb on tree trunks. When courting, the male flies close to the female and both birds chip softly. The male shows off possible nest cavities, entering and exiting them. Once a pair forms, the male guards the female while she is building the nest and laying eggs.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Breeding populations highly localized because of extreme habitat specificity, and are vulnerable to habitat destruction. Considered endangered in Canada.

Credits

  • Petit, L. J. 1999. Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea). In The Birds of North America, No. 408 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.

Range Map Help

Prothonotary Warbler Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Backyard Tips

Consider putting up a nest box to attract a breeding pair. Make sure you put it up well before breeding season. Attach a guard to keep predators from raiding eggs and young. Find out more about nest boxes on our Attract Birds pages. You'll find plans for building a nest box of the appropriate size on our All About Birdhouses site.

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