Birds Across Borders: Prothonotary Warblers

A bright yellow prothonotary warbler sits on a branch

It can be sad to say farewell to fall migrants, their springtime return with bright breeding plumage and musical songs seeming ages away. While we might miss them here in the U.S., their presence is enjoyed by wildlife watchers on their wintering grounds in Central and South America.

The Prothonotary Warbler is a small songbird with a bright orange-yellow head. They nest in cavities over slow moving water, such as bald cypress swamps. In the summer you can find them in the U.S. from New Jersey to north Florida and as far west as central Texas. In the winter they migrate south to Mexico, Honduras, Panama, Colombia, and Venezuela. This migratory species can even be found as a rare winter resident in Puerto Rico, Bermuda, the Virgin Islands and Lesser Antilles. Conserving habitat throughout the entirety of their breeding, stopover, and wintering grounds is key to protecting Prothonotaries and other migratory species.

As with most flora and fauna, there is a variety of local names for this beautiful bird. For example, in Costa Rica it is named “Reinita Cabecidorada,” or “Golden-headed Queen” and in Nicaragua it is called “Manguito Dorado,” or “Little Golden Mango.” In the United States, “Prothonotary” refers to clerks in the Roman Catholic Church, whose robes were bright yellow. Whatever you choose to call them, these small golden birds are a favorite among Floridians, Central Americans and Caribbean locals, connecting us all through their annual flights.

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