Sunday, May 1, 2016

Prothonotary Warbler

Yesterday at 11:00 am I read the ABA Birding News and noticed that a Prothonotary Warbler was seen in Tanque Verde Wash at 8:00 am. 

Prothonotary Warblers are typically found only in the Eastern United States, breeding mostly in the Southeast.

Their preferred habitat is wooded swamps. They breed in flooded river bottom hardwoods such as black willow, ash, buttonbush, sweetgum, red maple, hackberry, river birch, and elm; or wetlands with bay trees surrounded by cypress swamp. It winters in the tropics (Central America) in lowland woods and mangrove swamps.

Males arrive on nesting grounds in early April, about a week before females. Males establish territories by singing, vigorous displays, chases, and fighting. Males place small amounts of moss into the nest cavity, building dummy nests, but only female builds real nest. Male displays intensively to the female during courtship by fluffing plumage, and spreading wings and tail. Nest site usually 5-10' up (sometimes 3-30' up), above standing water in hole in tree or stump. Cavities are often old Downy Woodpecker nests. Sometimes excavates its own hole in very rotten stumps. Female fills nest cavity nearly to the entrance hole with moss, dry leaves, twigs and bark; then lines it with rootlets and bark strips.

Breeding populations of these warblers are highly localized because of the extreme habitat specificity required. This makes Prothonotary Warblers vulnerable to habitat destruction. 

Their population has declined by over 40% in the last 50 years because of the clearing of southern swamp forests. It is on the State of the Birds Watch List as a bird species that is at risk.  

Given their habitat, one might well ask why is a single male hanging around in old cottonwood trees in the sonoran desert of Southern Arizona. A good question without a good answer. Yet, every couple of years a single (usually male) finds its way here.

Since it is very rare to Southern Arizona -- and I live only three miles from Tanque Verde Wash, I dropped what I was doing to see if I could find him.

It didn't take too long, about an hour and a half. He landed on a branch about 8 feet off the ground and about 15 feet from me. So I was able to get a nice photo.

Prothonotary Warblers typically feed on butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, mayflies, and spiders. In swamp environments it eats mollusks and isopods. It supplements its diet with seeds, fruit, or nectar. You can see mulberry stains on his head and breast in the photo:

Prothonotary Warbler

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