PROTHONOTARY WARBLERS ON ABACO, BAHAMAS: WHAT’S IN A NAME?


PROTHONOTARY WARBLERS ON ABACO, BAHAMAS

Janene Roessler has kindly sent news of a sighting yesterday of a prothonotary warbler on a feeder at Bahama Palm Shores, Abaco [Later addition] Now, with thanks to Ann Capling, here is that very warbler on the feeder –  a fine photo considering it was taken indoors through glass.Apparently there hasn’t been one recorded there since 2007. I know of one seen further south on the island near the Delphi Club in April 2010 (see photo and caption below). I’ve never seen one myself. It seems fitting to celebrate the news with a post about these little birds…

This very pretty species of warbler Protonotaria citrea is the only member of its genus. The male birds are very colourful, with the females and juveniles being a bit duller. In flight, the underside of their tails are white at the base, and dark at the tip Photo Credit Craig Nash (Peregrine’s Blog) This fantastic photo was taken on the main drive of the Delphi Club, Abaco

These warblers are native to the eastern US where they breed, wintering further south in the West Indies and Central & South America. Their nesting arrangements are unusual: “It is the only eastern warbler that nests in natural or artificial cavities, sometimes using old downy woodpecker holes. The male often builds several incomplete, unused nests in his territory; the female builds the real nest” where she lays 3 – 7 eggs. So either the male is cleverly creating decoy nests away from the real nest; or maybe he is showing typically male behaviour in starting several home DIY projects at once and not getting round to finishing any of them…

Female Prothonotary Warbler (wiki)

I can never cope with those phonetic descriptions of bird calls… So many small birds are described as going ‘tseep’ or ‘tweep’ or ‘seeep’, yet in practice sound different from each other. So here, courtesy of the admirable Xeno-Canto and recordist Don Jones, is how they sound in real life


Listed as of ‘Least Concern’ (except in Canada, where they are ‘endangered’), the sad fact is that like so many species PNs are declining in numbers due to habitat loss. They are also bullied by other birds, in particular the brown-headed cowbird; and the house wren with which they compete for nest sites.

And the cumbersome name? Although at one time known by the helpful name ‘Golden Swamp Warbler’, the bird was renamed after senior Roman Catholic church officials called PROTONOTARII whose robes were (are?) supposedly golden. For full but quite dull details click on the green word back there. Bizarrely, the wiki-link doesn’t seem to confirm the goldenness of the robes at all. I think I’ll vote for a return to the simpler description…

Male Prothonotary Warbler (wiki)

POST SCRIPT: By complete coincidence, the National Audubon Society posted this lovely PN picture on its Facebook page this very day, with the caption Start your Monday morning off right with this cute Prothonotary Warbler peeking out of a heart shaped tree hole! Have you seen any of these birds yet? Photo by Mark Musselman” 

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