I was glad to find several pairs of Prothonotary warblers last weekend along the Four Mile Creek Greenway boardwalk between Elm Lane and Johnston Road.
The habitat is perfect for them here, a swamp forest with lots of standing water, lush undergrowth and an abundance of nesting sites. These warblers are an abundant and characteristic inhabitant of the swamps and bottomlands in the coastal plain of both North and South Carolina. They also occur at many sites in the Piedmont, primarily in the lowlands along our rivers and major creeks.
Prothonotary warblers are among the most brightly colored of North American birds. The golden mantle of the males is startlingly bright, causing many birders who see it for the first time to gasp at its beauty. I have seen hundreds of these birds and still react the same way when I see one. The gold seems to have an electric quality to it as the birds glow in the shadows where they like to forage. Even non-birders are impressed when they see one.
Prothonotary warblers are unique among our eastern warblers in that they nest in tree cavities. They will readily accept a properly constructed nest box, but don’t expect to attract them to your backyard if you put one up.
These birds prefer a nest site over water, presumably to discourage predators. What about the babies when they fledge? Don’t worry, they can swim to dry ground or a low branch and pull themselves out of the water if they need to. Within Mecklenburg County, nest boxes have been erected along Lower McAlpine Creek Greenway and at Cowans Ford Refuge with positive results.
If you want to see one of these jewels, stroll along some of the greenways in the southern part of the county where standing water and moist woodlands occur. You will need to be quiet and watchful. Lansford Canal State Park in South Carolina is known for its Prothonotary warblers and for the ease in viewing them there. Wherever you find one, I predict you will not soon forget the experience.