Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Prothonotary Warbler

This pretty little songbird is the "Prothonotary Warbler". They were named after clerks in the Roman Catholic church whose robes were bright yellow. They were known in many parts of their range as the "Golden Swamp Warbler" which is also a fitting name. These birds will be found near water; swamps, ponds, lakes, flooded bottomland areas, etc. They feed on insects that they generally glean from the bark of trees. These birds are one of two species of warblers that nest in cavities (the other is Lucy's Warbler). They breed in forested areas near water. 75% of all nesting is along water usually low to water surface. Which results in nest loss due to flooding. They will sometimes use old downy woodpecker holes in trees. The male will build several unused nests in a given area, the female will build the actual nest that is used for rearing their young. The males are a vibrant yellow, with an orangish-yellow head, dark wings and bright white on the underside of their tail feathers. Their beak is somewhat long and black, their legs are also black. The immatures and females are duller in coloration with lighter yellow feathers. Measuring at 4.75 inches they are a relatively small bird, and absolutely striking in their coloration. They have a very melodious song (Sweet sweet sweet sweet) that is very beautiful to listen to. While these birds are not listed as a species for conservation concern in the United States, they do face difficulties. They are declining (estimates are 1.5 % per year) in numbers in many parts of their range, mostly due to habitat loss. They are also parasitized by brown-headed cowbirds, and compete heavily for nesting sights and often times are crowded out by the more gregarious house wren. In Many parts of Canada they are listed as endangered. In the fall these birds migrate to Northern South America, and Southern Central America. Their highest numbers tend to be in Costa Rica, Panama, and Northern Columbia. They return to our area in late April or early May. These photos were taken at Happy Holler lake in Savannah, MO while Joey and I were kayaking. We heard him singing in the trees, then saw a flash of yellow as he landed in a tree near the water. I was able to row the kayak to within about 8 feet of him. He groomed his feathers and every little bit would belt out a beautiful song. Something about his presence made him seem almost happy, you couldn't help but smile.

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