Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Prothonotary Warbler - Protonotaria citrea
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General Comments The Prothonotary Warbler has often been called the "Golden Swamp Warbler", with good reason -- the male's bright golden head and breast often glow amid the dark green color of its swampy habitat. This is a bird of the Deep South, breeding barely north to New York and southern Ontario. In North Carolina, it is truly a common bird of Coastal Plain swamps, but is much less numerous farther inland, and is apparently absent in the mountains as a breeder. It inhabits swamps, bottomlands, nonriverine forests, wooded beaver ponds, and other wet habitats with some dead trees and stubs for nesting (in existing) cavities. Because its habitat actually appears to be increasing in the East, owing to an increase in beavers and beaver ponds, the Prothonotary Warbler appears to be slightly increasing, as well.
Breeding Status Breeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank S5B
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Summer resident. Breeds over the entire province, even sparingly on the Outer Banks. Common to very common in most areas, especially numerous in wide swamps and bottomlands -- both in blackwater and in brownwater river systems. One of the most common of birds nesting in swamps. Mainly early Apr to early Sep. Peak counts: 105, Alligator River NWR (Dare), 1 Jun 2015.
Piedmont Summer resident. Fairly common in the eastern and southern portions of the region, especially around the margins of Jordan and Falls lakes. Uncommon in the central portions, and very rare to rare in the western third, mainly restricted to larger floodplains and margins of lakes. Presumably nests inland at least sporadically west to Lake James (Burke) and Lake Adger (Polk) (confirmed nest in 2014), but likely absent from a few counties. The inner edge of the breeding range needs more elucidation, especially as most western portion reports are one-time sightings only. Mainly early Apr to late Aug; rare after early Sep. Peak counts:
Mountains Scarce transient. Rare transient in spring, and very rare in fall. In early summer, a few reports at very low elevations, mainly below 2,000 feet, but no indication of nesting; perhaps just late migrants. Mostly mid-Apr into May, and mid-Aug to mid-Sep. Peak counts:
Finding Tips The species is impossible to miss along Coastal Plain rivers in the breeding season. Good areas are Howell Woods preserve in Johnston, or Lumber River SP, but stopping at most bridge crossings over wooded creeks will suffice.
Attribution LeGrand[2015-12-31], LeGrand[2015-06-14], LeGrand[2015-03-05]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.
NC Breeding Season Map
Map depicts assumed breeding season abundance for the species.