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Prothonotary Warbler


IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

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

At a GlanceHelp

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.
  • 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.



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.



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 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


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.


Foliage Gleaner

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.


status via IUCN

Least Concern

Prothonotary Warbler populations are declined by 42% across their range between 1966 and 2014, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 1.6 million with 100% spending part of the year in the U.S., and 26% wintering in Mexico. They rate the species a 14 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score. Prothonotary Warbler is a U.S-Canada Stewardship species, and is on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List, which lists bird species that are at risk of becoming threatened or endangered without conservation action. Breeding populations of these warblers are highly localized because of the extreme habitat specificity needed by these birds. This makes Prothonotary Warblers vulnerable to habitat destruction. The species is considered endangered in Canada.


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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eBird Occurrence Maps, Prothonotary Warbler



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