The prothonotary warbler (pro-THON-oh-tary) is a bird of wooded swamps, where its loud song rings out. It is about 5 ½ inches long. The male’s bright golden yellow head and breast contrast sharply with the large black bill and eyes, soft blue-gray wings, and white undertail. The females are duller overall. Also note that fall and winter birds may show a paler (not black) bill. Furthermore, the prothonotary warbler is larger and more robust than other North American warblers.
The prothonotary warbler has a clear, loud song on a single tone: sweet-sweet-sweet-sweet-sweet! Call note is a metallic tchit!
The prothonotary warbler is a bird of swampy woodland habitats throughout the eastern United States. If you visit this type of habitat in spring or summer, especially in the southern states, you may encounter a prothonotary warbler working the understory, tending to its nest, or singing its distinctive song. Listen carefully, as this warbler is often heard before it is seen. Males will sing from the treetops, but both sexes will forage quite low. They nest in tree cavities or nest boxes in trees standing in water.
The prothonotary warbler is the only eastern warbler that nests in cavities, usually natural ones in cypress knees within a swamp. Other times it nests using a rotting stump, an old woodpecker hole, or a rural mailbox that is near water and convenient to a supply of spiders and beetles. Males select the cavity and place moss inside prior to attracting their mate. Females then compose the remainder of the nest. This species lays three to seven eggs that are incubated for about two weeks. The young fledge after about nine days. Prothonotary warblers may raise up to three broods per season.
The prothonotary warbler is named for the golden hood traditionally worn by the notary officer of the Roman Catholic Church.