The Golden Bird of Two Worlds

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By Karen Menard

Its wings tell a story of long journeys. For the prothonotary warbler – like clockwork – April and May signal the start of an annual migratory journey back to their summer homes.

The cool, South American evening wind provides it a smooth and much focused sendoff toward coveted forested wetland territory in eastern North America. However, the long migratory feat will be wrought with obstacles like storms, human development and the availability of viable stopover habitat for refueling, rest and appropriate shelter.

For this tremendous 2,000-plus-mile long flight back to northwest Ohio (where they only spend approximately three months), the important payoff is quick breeding success within the marsh forests of the Lake Erie Coastal Zone, riparian tracts along the Maumee River and other larger swamp forests.

Their nesting success goes hand in hand with available food sources like mayflies, caterpillars, mollusks, flies and even small bees. Suitable habitat includes cavity trees and larger, wooded sites near quality wetlands.

As the only cavity nesting warbler in eastern North America, it is critical that this species is able to find and use standing dead trees created by woodpeckers.

" Listen for a loud, repeated, “sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet,” and watch for a dynamic little bird resembling a golden beam of sunlight flickering among the shaded summer wetlands"

Logging many thousands of miles a year on its tiny wings, this warbler, weighing about as much as a triple A battery, spends time between two worlds – North and South America – each country’s sites providing for different biological needs.

Habitat protection is very important to the continued success of this species, especially for migratory stopover sites: its southern wintering grounds and North American breeding areas.

This bird, at times, can be heard or viewed at Providence Metropark, the Maumee River islands, or in some of the forested areas of the Lake Erie marshes. Listen for a loud, repeated, “sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet,” and watch for a dynamic little bird resembling a golden beam of sunlight flickering among the shaded summer wetlands.

Did you know?

The Prothonotary Warbler will sometimes use nest boxes if placed in the appropriate wooded wetland habitat.

For more information on a recent migratory research study, go here.

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Photo by Art Weber