Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Prothonotary Warblers Nesting Successfully in Virginia’s Coastal Plain

[Shirley Devan here as guest blogger to let you know what's going on at several sites where CVWO volunteers are monitoring Prothonotary Warblers.]

Male Prothonotary Warbler on railing at Powhatan
Creek Trail in Williamsburg, VA. Photo by Judy Jones.
First clutches of Prothonotary Warblers are just about complete at the six sites where CVWO volunteers monitor nest boxes across the Coastal Plain of Virginia. Many of them are “in your backyard” or a park near you. Here’s a brief summary of nesting activity mid-season at four sites:

In Chesapeake, VA on the Northwest River (near Northwest River Park), volunteers monitor 87 nest boxes where Prothonotary Warblers (PROW) have nested in man-made boxes since 2009. Eighty-three of the 87 boxes have hosted some sort of PROW activity so far – from “a sprig of moss” (installed by the male to attract a female) to fledged nestlings. And over 105 nestlings have successfully fledged as of May 21. June and July will find the warblers busy with second clutches.

Prothonotary Warbler nest with 6 eggs
at Northwest River. Photo by Shirley Devan
Prothonotary Warbler nestlings only about 2 days old. Photo by Shirley Devan
Well-fed Prothonotary Warbler nestlings. Photo by Judy Jones

In Williamsburg, VA, three locations host a total of 24 boxes.
  1. Chickahominy Riverfront Park has 12 nest boxes most of which are on Gordon Creek. Many can be seen from the shore line and camp sites. These boxes were installed in 2017. In this third year, the Prothonotary Warblers have occupied 8 boxes so far and Carolina Chickadees nested in 3 boxes. As of May 20, there are 23 eggs and nestlings in boxes at this park.
  2. At Powhatan Creek Trail, seven PROW boxes have been in place since 2015. This year was just like previous years – Carolina Chickadees nested in 6 boxes before the PROWs returned from their winter home in Central America. As of May 20, the chickadees are finished with their first and only clutch, boxes have been cleaned out, and PROWs have taken occupancy in 3 boxes with 8 eggs.
  3. A new trail of 5 PROW nest boxes has been created along the Nature Trail at Fords Colony, a residential community. This trail is sponsored by the WINGS bird club at Fords Colony, and residents monitor the trail weekly. As with most new trails, it takes a year or so for the PROWs to find the boxes. Volunteers hear the PROWs singing each time they check the boxes and one box has the beginnings of a nest. So far, only Carolina Chickadees have taken up residence.
Almost ready to fledge! Nestling responds to nearby adults
who promise tantalizing food. Photo by Judy Jones.
Just-fledged nestling SWIMS the short distance to a cypress
knee where parents are waiting. Photo by Judy Jones.
Prothonotary Warblers are devoted parents. While the female incubates the eggs, the male brings her food. Both adults feed the nestlings during the 10 days they are in the nest. If something happens to one of the adults, the other adult has a very difficult time providing enough food for the nestlings to be ready to fledge in 10 days. Volunteers have observed nestlings fledge from the nest box and witnessed the amazing care and diligence of the adults as they fly directly to each fledgling and escort the little one to safety in the woods.

PROWs like cavities – natural and man-made – near swamps, rivers, and bottomland forests. PROW is the only warbler east of the Mississippi River that nests in cavities. Hence it is an easy bird to study because biologists can closely study and monitor adults and nestlings.

You can read much more about Prothonotary Warblers and see many photos and hear their "sweet sweet sweet" song at Cornell Lab of Ornithology's web site, All About Birds.