The Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea) is a small songbird of the New World warbler family. It is the only member of the genus Protonotaria. This warbler is 5.1 inches long and weighs 0.44 oz. It has an olive back with blue-grey wings and tail, yellow underparts, a relatively long pointed bill, and black legs. The adult male has a bright orange-yellow head. Females and immature birds are duller and have a yellow head. In flight from below, the short, wide tail has a distinctive two-toned pattern, white at the base and dark at the tip. [Wikipedia]
The brilliant Prothonotary Warbler bounces along branches like a golden flashlight in the dim under-story 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. [All About Birds]
Prothonotary Warbler Facts [All About Birds]
- The Prothonotary Warbler got its name from the bright yellow robes worn by papal clerks, known as prothonotaries, in the Roman Catholic church.
- The Prothonotary Warbler had its day in court during the Cold War. In 1948 Alger Hiss an American government official was accused of being a Soviet spy. Part of the trial hinged on whether Hiss knew Whittaker Chambers, a former member of the U.S. Communist Party. Chambers claimed that he talked to Hiss about watching birds and reported Hiss’s excitement about seeing a Prothonotary Warbler on the Potomac River. This bird sighting linked the two people and eventually led to Hiss’s sentence and to the rise of Richard Nixon to political power.
- Most warblers nest either on the ground, in shrubs, or in trees, but the Prothonotary Warbler and the Lucy’s Warbler build their nests in holes in standing dead trees. They may also use nest boxes when available.
- 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 in 2005. He had been banded in the same area in 1999.