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A land manager's guide to conserving habitat for forest birds in ...

A land manager's guide to conserving habitat for forest birds in ...

Prothonotary Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler Protonotaria citrea excavating its own cavity. It relies either on naturally formed small and shallow cavities or on those created by chickadees. Nest sites are nearly always located over pools of water, one to three metres above the water surface. Nests are primarily composed of shredded chunks of green moss, with dead leaves mixed in, and lined with fine rootlets and grasses. In Ontario, birds breed from mid May through early July, lay four to six pale eggs that are speckled with browns and lavenders, and normally raise only one brood per year. See page 17 for a photo of a Prothonotary Warbler at a nest cavity. Male Prothonotary Warbler — Photo: Greg Lavaty Identification (14 centimetres) Restricted to deciduous swamp forests, the Prothonotary Warbler is frequently billed as one of the North America’s most beautiful songbirds. The adult male’s head, throat and breast are brilliant golden yellow, contrasting with an olive-green back and bluishgrey wings and tails. It has no wing bars, but white spots on its outer tail feathers are quite prominent. Females are similar, but drabber in colour. Conservation Status The Prothonotary Warbler is one of Canada’s most endangered birds, restricted to extreme southwestern Ontario, largely within 20 kilometres of Lake Erie. The core of the population occurs in the southeastern United States, northward up the Mississippi River valley. Its continental population has declined by about 40 percent since 1966, while that of Ontario has been reduced from 100 pairs, to no more than 10 to 20 pairs. Population declines are linked to loss and degradation of swamp forest habitat, coupled with fierce competition for cavity nest sites with House Wrens. Dramatic and escalating losses of coastal mangrove forest on its wintering grounds in Latin America is a serious conservation concern. Breeding Biology The Prothonotary Warbler’s breeding range is restricted to eastern North America, from extreme southern Ontario south to Florida and west to western Texas. The only warbler in eastern North America that nests exclusively in tree cavities, it is incapable of Diet The Prothonotary Warbler forages on branches and leaves from ground level to the upper canopy. Its summer diet consists of caterpillars, spiders and other small invertebrates. Management Guidelines As a specialized, secondary cavity-nesting species that builds its nest largely out of shade tolerant mosses, the Prothonotary Warbler is sensitive to all forms of forest management, including fuel wood cuts. Retention of large, mature swamp forests in an intact condition, particularly at sites that have a record of historical occupancy is recommended. Increasing the extent of swamp forest habitat in southern Ontario is expected to benefit this and numerous other species. How to Find Owing to its extreme rarity in Canada, it is unlikely that you’ll encounter this species, except perhaps during migration at Point Pelee, Rondeau, or Long Point. Listen for the male’s loud, ringing “tsweet-tsweet-tsweet” song in swamp forests and along wooded floodplains. Did you know? • Male Prothonotary Warblers frequently build one or more partial nests (called dummy nests), perhaps as a way to attract prospecting females. • Prothonotaries have been known to nest in some strange cavities, including old wasp nests, coffee cans, and mail boxes. They readily accept nest boxes, but this is only beneficial if there are no House Wrens in the area. • On the wintering grounds, some Prothonotaries seem fond of feeding on oranges that have been split open by other animals. This often stains their foreheads in various shades of orange that persists through the following breeding season. 126 Bird Species Accounts

Ovenbird Seiurus aurocapilla In Ontario, the Ovenbird breeds from mid-May through early July, raising one brood per season. They lay clutches of four to five eggs. Eggs are white, covered with rather large cinnamon-brown spots chiefly around the larger end. Nests are difficult to find, since females build cryptic, domed nests of dead leaves and grasses on the forest floor and are hesitant to flush. See page 20 for more photos of the almost invisible Ovenbird nest. Diet Ovenbirds feed primarily by walking slowly and continuously gathering invertebrates from the surface of the litter on the forest floor. They eat earthworms, insects, slugs, snails, and spiders, with beetles (adults and larvae), ants, and caterpillars being dominant food items. Adult Ovenbird — Photo: Marie Read Identification (11–14 centimetres) A small, inconspicuous warbler of the forest floor, the Ovenbird is one of the most characteristic birds of the eastern forests. Though its loud song, teacher, teacher, teacher, rings through the summer forest, the bird itself is hard to see. Sexes are identical and have olive brown backs, white undersides with bold, dark streaked spots, white eye-rings, and orange crowns bordered by black stripes. Conservation Status The Ovenbird breeds in mature deciduous and mixed forests across northern and northeastern North America. It is widely distributed across Ontario, occurring in every treed region of the province. However, declines have been detected in the Carolinian region, where fragmentation of large forest blocks continues to result in habitat loss and degradation. In much of the extreme southwest, it is virtually absent because woodlots are very small and fragmented. Populations have remained stable in the southern Shield despite its sensitivity to logging and loss of mature forest habitat, because forest cover there remains high. Overall, the Ovenbird is an area-sensitive, mature forest specialist, and though it presently remains one of the most abundant forest bird in many regions, its sensitivity to widespread disturbance suggests continued declines in the future. Breeding Biology The Ovenbird is both a ground forager and nester, selecting breeding areas often deep in the forest where there is a closed canopy, open understorey, and deep leaf litter. Although the species’ density tends to be higher where deciduous trees dominate, it has a broad tolerance for different tree communities. Management Guidelines Reduction of large, contiguous tracts of forest to smaller, isolated fragments has interfered with breeding and resulted in local population declines. As such, efforts should be made to conserve or expand large, mature forest tracts. Though densities often decline after forest harvesting, populations can rebound within as little as 30 years following partial cuts but may take much longer (60 to 100+ years) following clear cutting. Large interior forest areas that are left uncut will provide the best breeding habitat for Ovenbirds. Under the selection system, leaving large areas for 25 to 40 years between cuts will help maintain their habitat. How to Find You can spot an Ovenbird by looking for singing males midcanopy on an exposed branch of a deciduous tree. Listen for their loud resounding “teacher teacher teacher” song. Often, males will sing in response to a neighbouring male. Did you know? Photo: Lucas Foerster • The Ovenbird gets its name from the Dutch oven type nests they build, with a unique, camouflaged covered top and a side entrance. • Female Ovenbirds perform a crippled-wing display to distract predators when flushed from the nest. They look like a scurrying mouse. • Male Ovenbirds that sing continuously, particularly late in June and July, are still hunting for a mate. Bird Species Accounts 127

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