Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea) by Alex Forsythe
If someone asked you to “describe the color yellow”, how would you describe it???
My engineering and science friends may say, “Doesn’t everyone know that “yellow” is electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength between 564 and 590 nanometers?” (Yeah…sure…we know that already…)
Some of my artistic and psychologist friends may say, “Yellow is warmth, cheerfulness, and alertness.” (Ok, not all of you would say that…)
To “describe the color yellow”, one is almost forced to “show” someone what yellow looks like. What would you use as reference? Maybe you’d point to the sun (ok, that wouldn’t be smart at all). Maybe you’d point to a beautiful yellow flower of some type. Maybe you’d point to a bunch of bananas. Maybe that yellow Post-it sticker on your computer monitor would be sufficient to show someone what yellow looks like.
All this leads to the Bird of the Month, the Prothonotary Warbler.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw this bird. My first thought was “WOW, that’s what I call YELLOW!!!” The Prothonotary Warbler is indeed a strikingly brilliant, primarily yellow bird. It is made even more striking by the fact that it likes to live in a swampy type of habitat (which is typically dark and drab). When you see a Prothonotary Warbler in this type of habitat it can stick-out like a bright light. In fact, this bird is also known as the “Golden Swamp Warbler”, which is a quite fitting name.
Someone asked me a few weeks ago, “What is your favorite warbler?” That’s a hard question for me to answer, but this bird always comes to mind as a top five favorite warbler.
Of course, I’ll find a nice photo for this BOTM, but pictures just don’t give the Prothonotary Warbler the justice it deserves. You really have to see this bird in person to start to appreciate its vibrant color. Depending on where you live, it may take some effort to see this bird, but the effort is worth it. Fortunately, this warbler does nest in our state, so that makes things a bit easier.
The Prothonotary requires very specific habitat for breeding. It needs wooded areas near water, especially flooded bottomland hardwood forests.
While leading a bike hike just this past weekend, one person wanted to see a Prothonotary. I didn’t give him 100% assurance that we would see one, but I thought it very likely within an hour or two, we’d see one. Well, after almost 5 hours and 21 different species of warblers later, we finally saw one (…another testament of my poor birdwatching skills?). He thought the effort was worth it, and so did I.
If you haven’t already, make sure you go out and get a glimpse of this bird for yourself, and you’ll possibly say, “Now that’s what I call YELLOW!“
Editor’s Note: Want to see a Prothonotary Warbler? Nearly guaranteed at the Indiana Dunes Birding Festival, May 16-19!