Prothonotary Warbler

Protonotaria citrea

Early Spring Date: April 23
Late Spring Date: May 12
Infrequently Seen

Spring: Prothonotary Warblers are beautiful birds who are rarely seen at Monticello Park; during many years, none pass through. They prefer swamp habitat. They nest in numerous parks in the Washington metro area, including Huntley Meadows and Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Fall: A Prothonotary Warbler has never been recorded at Monticello during the fall.

Where to See Them in the Park

There is no good place to see Prothonotary Warblers at Monticello. When they visit the park, they often hop around near the stream.

Physical Description

Prothonotary Warbler Male
Male - Photo by William Young

Prothonotary Warbler Male
Male - Photo by Ashley Bradford

Prothonotary Warbler Male
Male - Photo by Ashley Bradford

The male Prothonotary is bright yellow with an olive back and blue-gray wings with no wingbars. The black eye stands out against the yellow face, and the bill looks like a large black peg. He looks round rather than sleek. The yellow can look orange when seen in bright sunlight.

Prothonotary Warbler Male
Male - Photo by Ashley Bradford

In flight, their underwings and undertail show a lot of white.

Prothonotary Warbler Female
Female - Photo by William Higgins

Females resemble the males, but have duller plumage. The feathers on her head are olive like the ones on her back rather than yellow like the ones on her throat.

Prothonotary Warbler Newly-hatched Chicks
Newly-hatched Chicks - Photo by Ashley Bradford

Here is a nest with some newly-hatched chicks.

Prothonotary Warbler Fall First-year Female
Fall First-year Female - Photo by William Higgins

Fall: The fall plumage of adults is similar to their spring plumage. The plumage of first-year females is much duller than the plumage of adult females.


Prothonotary Warbler Male
Male - Photo by William Higgins

The Prothonotary Warbler is the only bird species in our area who actually sings tweet-tweet-tweet-tweet-tweet-tweet-tweet. The song is loud and clear.

Hear the vocalizations of the Prothonotary Warbler.


The Prothonotary Warbler might have been named after Catholic scribes; the last six letters of the name are notary. The reason for the warbler's name is unclear, because contrary to popular belief, the scribes did not wear yellow robes. Many places in Pennsylvania have had prothonotary offices that record documents for various civil procedures. The prothonotary office in Philadelphia is thought to be the oldest continuously held legal office in the Western Hemisphere — the first person to head it was appointed by William Penn in 1683. However, because a lot of people apparently did not know what a prothonotary is, the name of the office has since been changed to the Office of Judicial Records — Civil.

Origin of Names

Common Name: Prothonotary from Catholic scribes. The New World Warblers were named for their similar appearance to European warblers, to whom they are not related. Most of the New World warblers do not warble (sing continuously with notes that change frequently).
Genus Name: Protonotaria from a Greek word meaning first scribe.
Species Name: Citrea means like a citrus tree, from the yellow plumage.

Prothonotary Warbler video footage

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