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Prothonotary Warbler


IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

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.


The male has a loud, far-carrying song of 4–14 high-pitched ringing notes, sometimes likened to shouting “tweet-tweet-tweet-tweet.” Each note is slightly upslurred and the series of notes increases in volume at the end. He frequently sings from elevated perches especially early in the morning, singing about 5–6 songs per minute. When close to the nest, his song is often softer; and when he’s with a female he sings a longer song that starts off fast and slows down at the end.


  • song, call, Song, call
  • Courtesy of Macaulay Library
    © Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

The male and female give a sharp tisk or tschip call, often during aggressive interactions with other birds or nest predators. The female also calls when she leaves and returns to the nest. If a predator threatens the nest they make a high-pitched trill to distract the predator. When pairs interact they give a softer and thinner tsip.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Backyard Tips

If you live in the Southeast near forested wetlands or water a nest box may attract a breeding pair. Attach a guard to keep predators from raiding eggs and young. Find out more about nest boxes on our All About Birdhouses site, including plans for building a nest box of the appropriate size for a Prothonotary Warbler.

Find This Bird

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.

You Might Also Like

Watch patterns of Prothonotary Warbler migration on an animated eBird Occurrence Map: Prothonotary Warbler

Learn more about standing dead trees: Snags: Nature's Apartment Complexes, Habitat Network, January 18, 2012.

How To Listen To Bird Song—Tips And Examples From The Warbler Guide, All About Birds, May 1, 2015.

In Colombia, Shade-Grown Coffee Sustains Songbirds And People Alike, Living Bird, Autumn 2016.

People Power And Sustainable Forestry Keep Deforestation At Bay In Guatemala, Living Bird, Autumn 2016.



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bird image Blue-winged Warbler by Brian Sullivan

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