Plants and Animals

Protonotaria citrea Prothonotary warbler

species photo
species photo
species photo
Aaron Kortenhoven
species photo
Aaron Kortenhoven
species photo
Aaron Kortenhoven

Key Characteristics

Prothonotary warblers have several unique characteristics that help in their identification. They are bright golden yellow on the head, breast, and belly (males more so than females) with an olive green back, gray wings, and white undertail coverts. Males have a darker bill than females. They are one of only two cavity nesting warblers in North America and the only one in Michigan.

Status and Rank

US Status: No Status/Not Listed
State Status: SC - Special Concern (rare or uncertain; not legally protected)
Global Rank: G5 - Secure
State Rank: S3 - Vulnerable


CountyNumber of OccurrencesYear Last Observed
Allegan 3 2006
Berrien 4 2022
Branch 2 1997
Calhoun 2 1997
Clinton 1 2021
Eaton 1 2007
Gratiot 1 2006
Ingham 1 2021
Ionia 3 2021
Kalamazoo 4 2014
Kent 1 2007
Lenawee 1 2018
Macomb 1 2003
Muskegon 3 2005
Oceana 1 1999
Saginaw 1 2003
St. Joseph 2 1997
Van Buren 1 2001
Washtenaw 3 2021
Wayne 1 2006

Information is summarized from MNFI's database of rare species and community occurrences. Data may not reflect true distribution since much of the state has not been thoroughly surveyed.


The Prothonotary warbler is a hole-nesting warbler which will accept bird houses. In southern Michigan the preferred habitat is bottom land forests with streams from 20-40 m wide bordered by red maple and associated trees.

Specific Habitat Needs

Snag/cavity needed in: Floodplain forestSouthern hardwood swamp.

Natural Community Types

For each species, lists of natural communities were derived from review of the nearly 6,500 element occurrences in the MNFI database, in addition to herbarium label data for some taxa. In most cases, at least one specimen record exists for each listed natural community. For certain taxa, especially poorly collected or extirpated species of prairie and savanna habitats, natural community lists were derived from inferences from collection sites and habitat preferences in immediately adjacent states (particularly Indiana and Illinois). Natural communities are not listed for those species documented only from altered or ruderal habitats in Michigan, especially for taxa that occur in a variety of habitats outside of the state.

Natural communities are not listed in order of frequency of occurrence, but are rather derived from the full set of natural communities, organized by Ecological Group. In many cases, the general habitat descriptions should provide greater clarity and direction to the surveyor. In future versions of the Rare Species Explorer, we hope to incorporate natural community fidelity ranks for each taxon.

Management Recommendations

Efforts should be made to preserve and expand existing floodplain and swamp forests which may help to reduce the percentage of nests lost to Brown-headed cowbird parasitism, predators like raccoons, and competition with House wrens for cavities. Older trees in particular provide the snags and rotten branches that may support nest cavities, and should be maintained, especially close to the riverbank. They will use nest boxes successfully and will particularly benefit from this practice where competition with House wrens for a limited number of cavities is strong. Creating buffers where logging is not permitted may ensure that enough trees can mature, thereby providing nest cavities that are lost when snags, trees, and rotten branches fall. Predator control may help in areas with limited habitat and high predator densities.

Active Period

Migration from third week of April to first week of May

Migration from third week of August to fourth week of September

Nesting from first week of May to fourth week of June

Survey Methods

While Prothonotary warblers, like most songbirds, sing most actively near sunrise their vibrant coloration and strict requirement for floodplain/swamp forest makes them relatively easy to spot throughout the day while canoeing in habitat. The song is a series of 5 - 12 upslurred "sweet" or "tweet" notes.

Visual, listen for song

Survey Period: From first week of May to fourth week of June

Time of Day: Morning (sunrise)


Survey References

  • Bibby, C.J., N.D. Burgess, and D.A. Hill. 1992. Bird Census Techniques. Academic Press, New York.

Technical References

  • Dunn, J. and K. Garrett. A Field Guide to Warblers of North America. Houghton Mifflin, Boston. 672pp.

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