Prothonotary Warbler

The Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea) is a small songbird of the New World warbler family. It is the only member of the genus Protonotaria.

The Prothonotary Warbler is 13 cm long and weighs 12.5 g. 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.

It breeds in hardwood swamps in southern Canada and the eastern United States, nesting in a cavity, sometimes using old Downy Woodpecker holes. The male often builds several incomplete unused nests in his territory; the female builds the real nest. It winters in the West Indies, Central America and northern South America.

The preferred foraging habitat is dense, woody streams, where the Prothonotary Warbler forages actively in low foliage, mainly for insects and snails.

The song of this bird is a loud repeated tweet-tweet-tweet-tweet.

These birds are declining in numbers due to loss of habitat. They are also parasitized by the Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater), or outcompeted for nest sites by the House Wren (Troglodytes aedon).

This bird was named after officials in the Roman Catholic Church known as the protonotarii, who wore golden robes.

The prothonotary warbler became known in the 1940s as the bird that, in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee, established a connection between Whittaker Chambers and Alger Hiss. Chambers had testified that Hiss enjoyed bird-watching, and once bragged about seeing a prothonotary warbler. Hiss later testified to the same incident, causing many members to become convinced of the pairs' acquaintance.


  • Database entry includes justification for why this species is of least concern
  • Curson, Quinn and Beadle, New World Warblers ISBN 0-7136-3932-6
  • Stiles and Skutch, A guide to the birds of Costa Rica ISBN 0-8014-9600-4

External links

Further reading


  • Petit, L. J. 1999. Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea). In The Birds of North America, No. 408 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.


  • Page AM. (1996). Updated status report on the prothonotary warbler, Protonotaria citrea, in Canada. Canadian Research Index. p. n/a.


  • Brown RE. M.S. (2001). Breeding biology, habitat, nest site, and nest box selection by prothonotary warblers and other species in eastern Texas. Stephen F. Austin State University, United States -- Texas.
  • Hoover JP. Ph.D. (2001). An experimental study of behavioral responses to nest predation and brood parasitism in a migratory songbird. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, United States -- Illinois.
  • Lefebvre G. Ph.D. (1993). Dynamique temporelle et spatiale de l'avifaune migratrice et residante des mangroves cotieres du Venezuela. Universite de Montreal (Canada), Canada.
  • Petit LJ. Ph.D. (1991). Effects of habitat quality on the breeding density, reproductive success, and mating system of prothonotary warblers (Protonotaria citrea) in Tennessee. University of Arkansas, United States -- Arkansas.
  • Peyman Dove LD. Ph.D. (2000). Landscape metrics to assess habitat suitability for conservation bird species in the southeastern United States. Mississippi State University, United States -- Mississippi.


  • Academy of Natural Sciences of P. (1999). Prothonotary warbler: Protonotaria citrea. Birds of North America. vol 0, no 408. p. 1-23.
  • Adair BM, Reynolds KD, McMurry ST & Cobb GP. (2003). Mercury occurrence in prothonotary warblers (Protonotaria citrea) inhabiting a national priorities list site and reference areas in southern Alabama. Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology. vol 44, no 2. p. 265-271.
  • Blem CR & Blem LB. (1991). NEST-BOX SELECTION BY PROTHONOTARY WARBLERS. Journal of Field Ornithology. vol 62, no 3. p. 299-307.
  • Blem CR & Blem LB. (1994). Composition and microclimate of Prothonotary Warbler nests. The Auk. vol 111, no 1. p. 197.
  • Blem CR & Blem LB. (2006). Variation in mass of female Prothonotary Warblers during nesting. Wilson Journal of Ornithology. vol 118, no 1. p. 3-12.
  • Blem CR, Blem LB & Barrientos CI. (1999). Relationships of clutch size and hatching success to age of female Prothonotary Warblers. Wilson Bulletin. vol 111, no 4. p. 577-581.
  • Blem CR, Blem LB & Berlinghoff LS. (1999). Old nests in Prothonotary Warbler Nest boxes: Effects on reproductive performance. Journal of Field Ornithology. vol 70, no 1. p. 95-100.
  • Brauning DW, Brittingham MC, Gross DA, Leberman RC, Master TL & Mulvihill RS. (1994). Pennsylvania breeding birds of special concern: A listing rational and status update. Journal of the Pennsylvania Academy of Science. vol 68, no 1. p. 3-28.
  • Brush T. (1994). Effects of competition and predation on prothonotary warblers and house wrens nesting in eastern Iowa. Journal of the Iowa Academy of Science. vol 101, no 1. p. 28-30.
  • Bryan K, Modenhauer R & Kroodsma DE. (1987). Geographic Uniformity in Songs of the Prothonotary Warbler. Wilson Bulletin. vol 99, no 3. p. 369-376.
  • Bunn AG, Urban DL & Keitt TH. (2000). Landscape connectivity: A conservation application of graph theory. Journal of Environmental Management. vol 59, no 4. p. 265-278.
  • Conner RN & Dickson JG. (1997). Relationships between bird communities and forest age, structure, species composition and fragmentation in the West Gulf Coastal Plain. Texas Journal of Science. vol 49, no 3 SUPPL. p. 123-138.
  • Daily TB. (2003). Nest box use and nesting success of house wrens (Troglodytes aedon) in a Midwestern Wetland Park. Ohio Journal of Science. vol 103, no 2. p. 25-28.
  • Davis WE & Komar O. (2003). Prothonotary Warbler eats lizard. Wilson Bulletin. vol 115, no 1. p. 102-102.
  • Flaspohler DJ. (1996). Nesting success of the prothonotary warbler in the upper Mississippi River bottomlands. The Wilson Bulletin. vol 108, no 3. p. 457.
  • Fleming WJ & Pettit DR. (1986). Modified Milk Carton Nest Box for Studies of Prothonotary Warblers Protonotaria-Citrea. Journal of Field Ornithology. vol 57, no 4. p. 313-315.
  • Heltzel JM & Leberg PL. (2006). Effects of selective logging on breeding bird communities in bottomland hardwood forests in Louisiana. Journal of Wildlife Management. vol 70, no 5. p. 1416-1424.
  • Hoover JP. (2003). Decision rules for site fidelity in a migratory bird, the prothonotary warbler. Ecology. vol 84, no 2. p. 416-430.
  • Hoover JP. (2003). Experiments and observations of prothonotary warblers indicate a lack of adaptive responses to brood parasitism. Animal Behaviour. vol 65, p. 935-944.
  • Hoover JP. (2003). Multiple effects of brood parasitism reduce the reproductive success of prothonotary warblers, Protonotaria citrea. Animal Behaviour. vol 65, p. 923-934.
  • Hoover JP. (2006). Water depth influences nest predation for a wetland-dependent bird in fragmented bottomland forests. Biological Conservation. vol 127, no 1. p. 37-45.
  • Hoover JP & Reetz MJ. (2006). Brood parasitism increases provisioning rate, and reduces offspring recruitment and adult return rates, in a cowbird host. Oecologia. vol 149, no 1. p. 165-173.
  • Hoover JP, Yasukawa K & Hauber ME. (2006). Spatially and temporally structured avian brood parasitism affects the fitness benefits of hosts' rejection strategies. Animal Behaviour. vol 72, p. 881-890.
  • Knutson MG & Klaas EE. (1997). Declines in abundance and species richness of birds following a major flood on the Upper Mississippi River. Auk. vol 114, no 3. p. 367-380.
  • Lawrence F. (1990). Prothonotary Warbler in Regina Saskatchewan Canada. Blue Jay. vol 48, no 1. p. 45-46.
  • Leberman RC. (1992). Prothonotary warbler Protonotaria citrea. Brauning, D. vol W, p. Atlas of breeding birds in Pennsylvania.
  • Lefebvre G & Poulin B. (1996). Seasonal abundance of migrant birds and food resources in Panamanian mangrove forests. Wilson Bulletin. vol 108, no 4. p. 748-759.
  • Lefebvre G, Poulin B & McNeil R. (1992). Abundance, Feeding Behavior, and Body Condition of Nearctic Warblers Wintering in Venezuelan Mangroves. The Wilson Bulletin. vol 104, no 3. p. 400.
  • Lefebvre G, Poulin B & McNeil R. (1994). Spatial and social behaviour of nearctic warblers wintering in Venezuelan mangroves. Canadian Journal of Zoology. vol 72, no 4. p. 757-764.
  • Lopez Ornat A & Greenberg R. (1990). Sexual Segregation by Habitat in Migratory Warblers in Quintana Roo Mexico. Auk. vol 107, no 3. p. 539-543.
  • Lyons JE. (2005). Habitat specific foraging of Prothonotary warblers: Deducing habitat quality. Condor. vol 107, no 1. p. 41-49.
  • Marshall MR, Diefenbach DR, Wood LA & Cooper RJ. (2004). Annual survival estimation of migratory songbirds confounded by incomplete breeding site-fidelity: study designs that may help. Animal Biodiversity & Conservation. vol 27, no 1. p. 59-72.
  • McNeil R. (1982). Winter Resident Repeats and Returns of Austral and Boreal Migrant Birds Banded in Venezuela. Journal of Field Ornithology. vol 53, no 2. p. 125-132.
  • Moore FR. (1990). Prothonotary Warblers Cross the Gulf of Mexico Together. Journal of Field Ornithology. vol 61, no 3. p. 285-287.
  • Pashley DN. (1988). Warblers of the West Indies Ii. the Western Caribbean. Caribbean Journal of Science. vol 24, no 3-4. p. 112-126.
  • Petit DR & Petit LJ. (1987). Fecal Sac Dispersal by Prothonotary Warblers Weatherhead's Hypothesis Re-Evaluated. Condor. vol 89, no 3. p. 610-613.
  • Petit KE & Tarvin KA. (1990). First Record of Prothonotary Warbler from Galapagos Islands Ecuador. American Birds. vol 44, no 5.
  • Petit LJ. (1989). Breeding Biology of Prothonotary Warblers in Riverine Habitat in Tennessee USA. Wilson Bulletin. vol 101, no 1. p. 51-61.
  • Petit LJ. (1991). Adaptive tolerance of cowbird parasitism by prothonotary warblers: A consequence of nest-site limitation?. Animal Behaviour. vol 41, no 3. p. 425.
  • Petit LJ. (1991). Experimentally Induced Polygyny in a Monogamous Bird Species Prothonotary Warblers and the Polygyny Threshold. Behavioral Ecology & Sociobiology. vol 29, no 3. p. 177-188.
  • Petit LJ, Fleming WJ, Petit KE & Petit DR. (1987). NEST-BOX USE BY PROTHONOTARY WARBLERS (PROTONOTARIA-CITREA) IN RIVERINE HABITAT. Wilson Bulletin. vol 99, no 3. p. 485-488.
  • Petit LJ & Petit DR. (1988). CONTINUOUS FEEDING FROM A SPIDERS WEB BY A PROTHONOTARY WARBLER. Journal of Field Ornithology. vol 59, no 3. p. 278-279.
  • Petit LJ & Petit DR. (1988). USE OF RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD NEST BY A PROTHONOTARY WARBLER. Wilson Bulletin. vol 100, no 2. p. 305-306.
  • Petit LJ & Petit DR. (1996). Factors governing habitat selection by Prothonotary Warblers: Field tests of the Fretwell-Lucas models. Ecological Monographs. vol 66, no 3. p. 367.
  • Petit LJ, Petit DR, Petit KE & Fleming WJ. (1990). Annual Variation in Foraging Ecology of Prothonotary Warblers During Breeding Season. Auk. vol 107, no 1. p. 146-152.
  • Petit LJ, Petit DR, Petit KE & Fleming WJ. (1990). Intersexual and Temporal Variation in Foraging Ecology of Prothonotary Warblers During the Breeding Season. Auk. vol 107, no 1. p. 133-145.
  • Podlesak DW & Blem CR. (2001). Factors associated with growth of nestling Prothonotary Warblers. Wilson Bulletin. vol 113, no 3. p. 263-272.
  • Podlesak DW & Blem CR. (2002). Determination of age of nestling Prothonotary Warblers. Journal of Field Ornithology. vol 73, no 1. p. 33-37.
  • Reichhardt LJ & Petit DR. (1986). The Effect of Increased Nest Box Density on the Reproductive Success of Prothonotary Warblers Protonotaria-Citrea. Ohio Journal of Science. vol 86, no 2.
  • Reynolds KD, Rainwater TR, Scollon EJ, Sathe SS, Adair BM, Dixon KR, Cobb GP & McMurry ST. (2001). Accumulation of DDT and mercury in prothonotary warblers (Protonotaria citrea) foraging in a heterogeneously contaminated environment. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry. vol 20, no 12. p. 2903-2909.
  • Reynolds KD, Skipper SL, Cobb GP & McMurry ST. (2004). Relationship between DDE concentrations and laying sequence in eggs of two passerine species. Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology. vol 47, no 3. p. 396-401.
  • Sallabanks R, Walters JR & Collazo JA. (2000). Breeding bird abundance in bottomland hardwood forests: Habitat, edge, and patch size effects. Condor. vol 102, no 4. p. 748-758.
  • Smith WP, Twedt DJ, Wiedenfeld DA, Hamel PB, Ford RP & Cooper RJ. (1993). POINT COUNTS OF BIRDS IN BOTTOMLAND HARDWOOD FORESTS OF THE MISSISSIPPI ALLUVIAL VALLEY - DURATION, MINIMUM SAMPLE-SIZE, AND POINTS VERSUS VISITS. Usda Forest Service Southern Forest Experiment Station Research Paper. no 274. p. 1-&.
  • Twedt DJ & Henne-Kerr JL. (2001). Artificial cavities enhance breeding bird densities in managed cottonwood forests. Wildlife Society Bulletin. vol 29, no 2. p. 680-687.
  • Underwood RM & Underwood TJ. (2001). Prothonotary warbler in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Blue Jay. vol 59, no 4. p. 193-195.
  • Wakeley JS & Roberts TH. (1996). Bird distributions and forest zonation in a bottomland hardwood wetland. Wetlands. vol 16, no 3. p. 296-308.
  • Warkentin IG & Hernandez D. (1996). The conservation implications of site fidelity: A Case study involving nearctic-neotropical migrant songbirds wintering in a Costa Rican mangrove. Biological Conservation. vol 77, no 2-3. p. 143-150.
  • Warkentin IG & Morton ES. (1995). Roosting behavior of Prothonotary Warblers in the non-breeding season. The Wilson Bulletin. vol 107, no 2. p. 374.
  • Warkentin IG & Morton ES. (2000). Flocking and foraging behavior of wintering Prothonotary Warblers. Wilson Bulletin. vol 112, no 1. p. 88-98.
  • Wilson RR & Allan RS. (1996). Mist netting from a boat in forested wetlands. Journal of Field Ornithology. vol 67, no 1. p. 82-85.
  • Wood DR. (2004). Prothonotary warbler nest success and vegetation characteristics in a fragmented Oklahoma landscape. Proceedings of the Oklahoma Academy of Science. vol 84, p. 27-31.

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