colour photograph of the Prothonotary Warbler species

Photo: Allen Woodliffe

The Prothonotary Warbler is one of North America’s most brightly coloured songbirds. The birds are small, weighing 14 grams and measuring 14 centimetres in length, with golden yellow heads and breasts, olive-green backs, and azure blue wings and tails.

Protecting and recovering species at risk in Ontario

Species at risk recovery is a key part of protecting Ontario’s biodiversity. Biodiversity – the variety of living organisms on Earth – provides us with clean air and water, food, fibre, medicine and other resources that we need to survive.

The Endangered Species Act, 2007 (ESA) is the Government of Ontario’s legislative commitment to protecting and recovering species at risk and their habitats. As soon as a species is listed as extirpated, endangered or threatened under the ESA, it is automatically protected from harm or harassment. Also, immediately upon listing, the habitats of endangered and threatened species are protected from damage or destruction.

Under the ESA, the Ministry of Natural Resources (the Ministry) must ensure that a recovery strategy is prepared for each species that is listed as endangered or threatened. A recovery strategy provides science-based advice to government on what is required to achieve recovery of a species.

Government response statements

Within nine months after a recovery strategy is prepared, the ESA requires the Ministry to publish a statement summarizing the government’s intended actions and priorities in response to the recovery strategy. The recovery strategy for the Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea) was published on June 15, 2012.

The response statement is the government’s policy response to the scientific advice provided in the recovery strategy. All recommendations provided in the recovery strategy were considered and this response statement identifies those that are considered to be appropriate and necessary for the protection and recovery of the species. In addition to the strategy, the response statement is based on input from stakeholders, other jurisdictions, Aboriginal communities and members of the public. It reflects the best available traditional, local and scientific knowledge at this time and may be adapted if new information becomes available. In implementing the actions in the response statement, the ESA allows the Ministry to determine what is feasible, taking into account social and economic factors.

Moving forward to protect and recover the Prothonotary Warbler

The Prothonotary Warbler is listed as an endangered species under the ESA, which protects both the animal and its habitat. The ESA prohibits harm or harassment of the species and damage or destruction of its habitat without authorization. Such authorization would require that conditions established by the Ministry be met.

The Prothonotary Warbler’s breeding range is restricted entirely to the Carolinian forest zone and almost entirely to sites located on the north shore of Lake Erie in Ontario. The Prothonotary Warbler builds its nests in tree cavities and typically lives in mature and semi-mature deciduous swamp forests and riparian flood plains. In Canada, the population has declined from 40 or more pairs in the 1980s to an estimated 10 pairs in 2008. Degradation and loss of swamp forest nesting habitat in North America and mangrove forest wintering habitat in South America have been identified as key threats. Other threats to the species include a high level of competition for nest sites (e.g., from House Wrens), nest predation and parasitism, encroachment of invasive plants, and issues related to climate change and invasive insect infestations.

The government’s goal for the recovery of the Prothonotary Warbler is to enable natural increases to achieve historic population levels of 40 breeding pairs of the species within its range in southern ontario.

Protecting and recovering species at risk is a shared responsibility. No single agency or organization has the knowledge, authority or financial resources to protect and recover all of Ontario’s species at risk. Successful recovery requires inter-governmental co-operation and the involvement of many individuals, organizations and communities.

In developing the government response statement, the Ministry considered what actions are feasible for the government to lead directly and what actions are feasible for the government to support its conservation partners to undertake.

Government-led Actions

To help protect and recover the Prothonotary Warbler, the government will directly undertake the following actions:

  • Educate other agencies and authorities involved in planning and environmental assessment processes on the protection requirements under the ESA.
  • Encourage the submission of Prothonotary Warbler data to the Ministry’s central repository at the Natural Heritage Information Centre.
  • Undertake communications and outreach to increase public awareness of species at risk in Ontario.
  • Protect the Prothonotary Warbler and its habitat through the ESA.
  • Support conservation, agency, municipal, industry partners and Aboriginal communities to undertake activities to protect and recover the Prothonotary Warbler. Support will be provided where appropriate through funding, agreements, permits (including conditions) and advisory services.
  • Establish and communicate annual priority actions for government support in order to encourage collaboration and reduce duplication of efforts.

Government-supported actions

The government endorses the following actions as being necessary for the protection and recovery of the Prothonotary Warbler. Actions identified as "high" will be given priority consideration for funding or for authorizations under the ESA. The government will focus its support on these high-priority actions over the next five years.

Focus area: Management

Objective: Enhance, restore, and monitor habitat at current and potential breeding sites.


  1. (High) Identify degraded habitat sites with the potential to be restored as breeding habitat for the species and undertake restoration on a prioritized basis.
  2. (High) Develop and implement best management practices to minimize disturbances such as loss of forest canopy cover and decreasing water levels at occupied Prothonotary Warbler sites.
  3. Develop and implement approaches to mitigate the threat of invasive forest insects and plants.
  4. Investigate and implement techniques to reduce nest failures attributable to competition from House Wrens.

Focus area: Monitoring and research

Objective: Improve knowledge of the Prothonotary Warbler population trends and biology, and research and address major threats.


  1. (High) Monitor annual population trends including adult survivorship, site fidelity, return rates, and productivity in Canada in relation to predation, brood parasitism, and nest competition.
  2. Investigate whether insect control programs (e.g., for mosquitoes or gypsy moths) directly or indirectly impact the species during the breeding season.

Focus area: Awareness

Objective: Cooperate with other jurisdictions to improve knowledge and awareness of the Prothonotary Warbler habitat and threats.


  1. Work in partnership with U.S. partners and collaborators in Great Lakes states and other researchers, agencies, and jurisdictions across the species' range to share information about:
    • locations of important wintering areas;
    • the protection status of wintering habitat;
    • important wintering habitat features; and,
    • threats impacting the species across its range.
  1. Develop outreach materials that highlight ways to minimize threats and disturbances to the species and its habitat, and distribute these materials to the public and other key stakeholders.

Implementing actions

Financial support for the implementation of actions may be available through the Species at Risk Stewardship Fund, Species at Risk Research Fund for Ontario, Species at Risk Farm Incentive Program or Community Fisheries and Wildlife Involvement Program. Conservation partners are encouraged to discuss project proposals related to the actions in this response statement with the Ministry. The Ministry can also advise if any authorizations under the ESA or other legislation may be required to undertake the project.

Implementation of the actions may be subject to changing priorities across the multitude of species at risk, available resources and the capacity of partners to undertake recovery activities. Where appropriate, the implementation of actions for multiple species will be co-ordinated across government response statements.

Reviewing progress

The ESA requires the Ministry to conduct a review of progress towards protecting and recovering a species not later than five years from the publication of this response statement. The review will help identify if adjustments are needed to achieve the protection and recovery of the Prothonotary Warbler.


We would like to thank all those who participated in the development of the "Recovery Strategy for the Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea) in Ontario" for their dedication to protecting and recovering species at risk.