Golden Swamp Warbler

“The charm of its haunts and the beauty of Its plumage combine to render the Prothonotary Warbler among the most attractive members of the family. I clearly recall my own first meeting with it In the Suwanee River region of Florida. Quietly paddling my canoe along one of the many enchanting, and, I was then quite willing to believe, enchanted streams which flowed through the forests into the main river, this glowing hit of bird-life gleamed like a torch in the night. No neck-straining examination with opera-glass pointed to the treetops, was required to determine his Identity, as, flitting from bush to hush along the river’s bank, his golden plumes were displayed as though for my special benefit.”

Dr. Frank Chapman in The Warblers of North America, published in 1907.

According to common knowledge, the Prothonotary Warbler is named for the yellow robes (Protonotaria) worn by lawyers of the Catholic Church. But Rick Wright over at Birding New Jersey and the World makes an excellent argument for a different origin for the name. The Prothonotary Warbler was described from Louisiana, which was heavily French at the time, and the locals called the bird “le Protonotaire” which is an overseer of notaries. Not making any sense? Let me quote Rick’s article, because he explains it quite eloquently:

Like rural busybodies the world over, Louisiana’s protonotaires were no doubt self-important buttonholers, given to saying the same thing over and over just to hear themselves talk. And there is no bird anywhere whose song is more monotonous than the tweet-tweet-tweet-tweet of a Prothonotary Warbler, holding endlessly forth from the depths of the hot swamp like the small-town functionary from his store-front office…

I might put the “song” of the Red-eyed Vireo up against the Prothonotary’s for monotony, but his logic is excellent. In any case, I prefer “Golden Swamp Warbler” which somehow lost out to the butt-ugly “Prothonotary Warbler” in the common name battle.

Or I could follow Dayna’s example. A recent “convert” to birding, she was trying to remember the name and came up with “Prometheus Warbler” instead. Now if either of us spots a small, bright yellow bird near the water, it’s automatically declared to be a Prometheus Warbler. And I’m ok with that, because I like it better than Prothonotary.

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