Shelter from the Storm

In South Carolina, conservationists provide much-needed nesting habitat for declining prothonotary warblers

  • Photographs By Zach Steinhauser // Text By Laura Tangley
  • Conservation
  • Mar 31, 2023

A female prothonotary warbler peers out from a nest cavity in a cypress knee. Development, timber harvests and competition with other bird species have significantly reduced the number of such natural nest sites.

An image of Jay Keck installing a box.

A BRIGHT SPLASH OF COLOR amidst the muted tones of a flooded forest, the prothonotary warbler is nicknamed “swamp canary” for its vivid golden feathers and the male’s lyrical springtime song. “That sweet, sweet, sweet song is a sound that says you’re in a Carolina swamp,” says Jay Keck (pictured), a habitat manager for National Wildlife Federation affiliate South Carolina Wildlife Federation (SCWF).

Sadly, the bird’s song has faded in recent years as timber harvesting and development destroy its habitat. The species’ numbers fell 42 percent from 1966 to 2015. Since 2019, Keck has been working to bring back the birds across his home state through Project Prothonotary, an effort to install nest boxes that replace lost nest sites in trees. The project also features public education. “If we can get landowners to fall in love with this bird,” he says, “they may say ‘no’ when a developer offers to buy the land.”

Zach Steinhauser is a South Carolina-based photographer and filmmaker. Laura Tangley is senior editor.

Project Prothonotary

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