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How to Spot a Swamp Canary

Making It Grow Radio Minute
SC Public Radio

The Prothonotary warbler is sometimes called the swamp canary. These small birds are a brilliant yellow with bluish-grey green wings and a black eye that’s very striking on the yellow head. Males are a more intense yellow than females. The name is somewhat strangely pronounced as it comes from the word proto notary, a clerical rank in the Catholic Church whose members wear bright yellow robes. The swamp canary nickname is appropriate as these birds are indicative of a healthy environment, as the canaries in the coal mines were used to monitor for air quality. Although small, they are aggressive about their nesting sites, males fight to establish a territory, and after the nest is built, both parents engage in bill snapping to fend off intruders. They ‘re easy to spot -- they fly relatively low and their bright color catches your eye.

Amanda McNulty is a Clemson University Extension Horticulture agent and the host of South Carolina ETV’s Making It Grow! gardening program. She studied horticulture at Clemson University as a non-traditional student. “I’m so fortunate that my early attempts at getting a degree got side tracked as I’m a lot better at getting dirty in the garden than practicing diplomacy!” McNulty also studied at South Carolina State University and earned a graduate degree in teaching there.