PROTHONOTARY WARBLER – (Protonotaria citrea)
The Prothonotary Warbler (also called the ‘Swamp Warbler) is a small songbird part of the passerines order. The male has a yellow-orange head and yellow under parts, and an olive green back. The tail and most of the wings are grey. The tail has white spots. The bill and eyes are black, and the legs are grey. Females are similar to the males, but the yellow is duller. The bird is approximately 12 cm (5 in.) long.
The Latin genus name ‘Protonotaria’ is from ancient Greek and means an ‘authorized scribe’, and was given to this species because some of those people were wearing yellow robes. The Latin species name ‘citrea’ means ‘citrus’, again in reference to the bird’s color. And ‘Warbler’ refers to the generally melodious songs of those birds.
The habitat of this warbler is swampy and bottomland deciduous forests. They forage in dense foliage near the ground, and feed on insects, arthropods and snails. When available in the winter they will also feed on seeds and berries.
Predators include raccoons, flying squirrels, tree snakes and brown-headed cowbirds.
As opposed to other warbler species, the prothonotary nests in dead tree cavities such as those made by woodpeckers, and will also use nest boxes if properly located. The male will sometimes build a few ‘dummy’ nests.
The prothonotary warbler does not breed on PEI, and there’s only been a hypothetical (i.e. unconfirmed) sighting of this bird species on the island so far. Its breeding range includes the south east part of the USA, and in migrates mainly to Central America and northern South America for the winter. It is also known to breed in southern Ontario but is very rare in Canada.
Conservation: the prothonotary warbler is listed as ‘endangered’ by COSEWIC, but still as of ‘least concern’ by the IUCN in spite of a steady decline in its general population. Threats in Ontario include habitat loss caused by invasive species (plants and insects), and parasitism by the brown-headed cowbird. Elsewhere, forest harvesting and wetland degradation or drainage for development and aquaculture impact the habitat of this species.