Prothonotary Warbler

Hey guys welcome back! Today, the prothonotary warbler! I’ve only ever seen a few prothonotary warblers in my life. The first, back in 2015, in Central Park, one in St. Louis this past spring, and two last week here in Ohio. As warblers go, prothonotary warblers are on the larger side of things, about sparrow size. They also have larger, heavier bills than most warblers. They are insanely bright yellow. Like someone turned up the saturation too high, and that bright color is contrasted nicely by their grey wings.

Prothonotary Warbler1
Prothonotary Warbler, Gateway Arch National Park, St. Louis, MO

This bird also introduced me to a debate amongst birders. Do rehabbed and rereleased birds “count” when you’re out birding. So the first prothonotary warbler I saw was in the Ramble in Central Park. New York City is kind of out of the prothonotary warbler’s range, so seeing one in the park led to a frenzy amongst birders to see it. I found out that the bird had been released in the park after being rehabbed (from what I’m not certain) by the Wild Bird Fund. So, some questioned whether it should be “counted” or not. There seems to be two basic arguments here (I’m simplifying.) 1) If a bird was released by a rehab organization, then it didn’t arrive at that location by choice, and since humans put it there it doesn’t actually count, and 2) If after a while the bird is still there, and has had the opportunity to leave but doesn’t, then it has now “chosen” to be there and therefore should count. Now which one is “right” is totally subjective. I’ve encountered four such birds while working for Central Park and the general consensus I picked up on varied. Most people counted the prothonotary warbler because the spot it was seen was not the spot in the park it was released, while many didn’t count a red-necked grebe because it was placed in the Reservoir and remained there for a long time. In my experience, people have principles that they’d like to adhere to but if it’s a bird they really want to see, they’ll find a way to make an excuse. And that’s not a judgement, you do you. Personally, I fall toward the camp of if it had the opportunity to leave, and didn’t, I’m going to count it.

Prothonotary Warbler, Magee Marsh, OH

Anyway, the prothonotary warbler’s range is fairly limited to the U.S. southeast and Gulf Coast. They are sometimes known as the swamp warbler because of the habitat it prefers, and will move north along major rivers like the Mississippi and Ohio. In fact my most recent sightings were in a swamp. Magee Marsh to be exact, located in Northwest Ohio and largely considered to be the “warbler capital of the world.” I made my first ever trip up there last week, and even though fall migration has only barely begun, I saw two of them! I believe they actually nest there! So if you do get a chance to see this really cool looking bird, go ahead and count it. Depending on where you are, you may not see it again! Next time a much more common warbler, the long-named black-throated green warbler! See you all then!

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