Prothonotary Warblers

 

As April passes into May, many migratory birds leave the tropics of Central and South America in search of bountiful summer resources in the sub-tropical United States. Among them, the very charismatic Prothonotary Warbler flies from the northern tropics to the hospitable habitats of the United States. Prothonotary warblers live in forests near bodies of slow-moving water where they can hunt for insects and nest in cavities in trees. The cypress swamps of Louisiana are about as good as it gets for a prothonotary warbler, and they stay from April to August. [1] If you get out into the swamp during the summer, look for their bright yellow figures darting through low-lying foliage.

Prothonotary warblers have experienced a population decline in recent years that experts attributed to the destruction of their wintering habitat in the tropics.[2] To improve breeding success and survivorship, the Audubon Society and other ornithological enthusiasts have encouraged people to install nest boxes that help to protect warbler nests from failing. Many natural threats exist in swamps for warblers, including a variety of snakes, birds of prey, and mammals. Since brown-headed cowbirds will use prothonotary nests to lay their eggs in when given the chance, nest boxes are suggested to have a 1¼“ hole to prevent larger birds from entering the box but still allow the warblers to enter. Boxes are not left on the ground, and are often mounted on poles. Some predators can climb, so many boxes have a skirt/collar that prevents snakes, raccoons, and cats from climbing the poles into the nests. More guidelines for a good nest box can be found at https://nestwatch.org/learn/all-about-birdhouses/features-of-a-good-birdhouse/.

 

 

[1] Petit, L. J. (1999). Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bna.408

[2] Kaufman, Kenn. “Prothonotary Warbler.” Audubon, National Audubon Society, 10 Mar. 2016, http://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/prothonotary-warbler.

Featured Image:

Brannon, Peter. “Adult Male.” All About Birds, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Florida, 14 Sept. 2016, http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Prothonotary_Warbler/id.

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The Bald Cypress

In 1963, the Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) was designated as Louisiana’s official state tree. The bald cypress’s deciduous character, unlike most conifers gives, it a “bald” appearance. This type of tree is rather majestic and can be spotted in the swamps of Louisiana. It has a swollen, ridged trunk at the base; widespread branches; reddish-brown bark; and roots that often cause what we know as cypress knees to appear around the tree. Although the bald cypress is widely adaptable, it prefers to grow in wet, swampy soils. Riverbanks, floodplains, and wet depressions are specific areas in which the bald cypress thrives.

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Bald cypresses provide habitat benefits to terrestrial and aquatic wildlife. The Louisiana forestry industry is also dependent on these cypress trees to contribute to a productive annual harvest with large monetary returns on the lumber and cypress mulch produced. The Atchafalaya Basin makes up a large share of the coastal wetlands, and more the half of the acreage of the Atchafalaya basin is cypress wetland forest. The bald cypresses of the wetlands are important to Louisiana’s culture, animal habitats, and the economy. Maintaining healthy cypress wetlands is critical to maintaining a natural storm buffer, filtering polluted water, providing irreplaceable habitats, and sustaining a thriving economy.

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Wetland Vegetation

Spanish Moss
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Frequently included in the visionary imagery of Louisiana’s swamp landscape is gray, vine-like vegetation commonly seen draped on cypress branches. Thought to be a moss, Spanish moss is actually a bromeliad related to pineapples and succulent house plants in the same taxonomic family. Similarly, Spanish moss is not native to Spain, as is commonly thought; it is, however, native to South America and the Caribbean and grows from Texas to Virginia in the U.S. Inclined to moist areas, an ideal habitat for Spanish moss is a tree residing in a tropical swampland. Spanish moss is a rootless epiphyte—although Spanish moss is located on tree branches, it does not obtain food or water from the supporting tree as a parasite would. Spanish moss spreads and propagates from fragments known as festoons which are carried by wind or birds and initiate growth after landing in suitable conditions. An abundance of wetland wildlife utilize Spanish moss for survival needs, such as birds building nests and spiders and frogs hiding from predators.

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Wetland Vegetation

Bald Cypress

 

A trademark of the freshwater swamp landscapes in temperate climate zones, this deciduous conifer has made its mark as a signature resident of Louisiana, having been cypress-treenamed the state tree. The widely adaptable bald cypress thrives best in wet, swampy soils of riverbanks and floodplains and is commonly thought of as a famous inhabitant of American swamplands, such as those that border the Mississippi River. Cypress trees will often have Spanish moss draped from branches and cypress knees protruding from the water or soil surface, as well as terrestrial and aquatic wildlife in close proximity who are dependent upon these trees. Swamp imagery usually includes bald cypress trees which are commonly correlated with Cajun culture. Cypress trees also contribute to a major portion of Louisiana’s forestry industry with an estimated annual harvest of 30 million board feet per year. The town of Patterson was once home to the largest cypress sawmill in the world and is now designated as the Cypress Capitol of Louisiana. Having both historical and economic importance, cypress trees that are at least two hundred years old and alive at the time of the Louisiana Purchase are being identified and landmarked as part of the Louisiana Purchase Cypress Legacy program to commemorate the state’s natural heritage. Cypress trees have been considered essential in the representation of swamp wetlands and hold exceptional importance to Louisiana.

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