Cape May WarblerSetophaga tigrina

adult male, breeding
Adrian & Jane Binns/VIREO
immaturemale (1st winter)
Gerard Bailey/VIREO
adult female, breeding
Joe Fuhrman/VIREO
immature female (1st winter)
Richard Crossley/VIREO
adult male, nonbreeding
Rob Curtis/VIREO
immature male (1st winter)
Rob Curtis/VIREO
immature female (1st winter)
Rob & Ann Simpson/VIREO
adult male, breeding
Glenn Bartley/VIREO
adult male, breeding
Arthur Morris/VIREO

Family

Description

Many of our migratory warblers seem to lead double lives, and the Cape May is a good example. It summers in northern spruce woods, but winters in the Caribbean, where it is often seen in palm trees. In summer it eats insects, but during migration and winter it varies its diet with nectar from flowers and with juice that it obtains by piercing fruit. Birders easily recognize the tiger-striped males in spring, but drab fall birds can be perplexing.

Habitat

Spruce forest; other trees in migration. Breeds in spruce forest, either in pure stands or mixed with firs or other trees, generally in more open woods or near the forest edge. During migration often favors conifers, but also forages in deciduous trees and thickets. In Florida and the West Indies in winter, often feeds in the crowns of palm trees.

Feeding Diet

Mostly insects, some fruit, nectar. Diet includes spruce budworms, parasitic wasps and flies, ants, bees, small moths, beetles, leafhoppers, also spiders. In migration, may pierce grapes and drink the juice. Also feeds on sap from holes drilled by sapsuckers. Unique among warblers, the Cape May has a tubular tongue; in winter, it feeds heavily on flower nectar and fruit juices.

Feeding Behavior

On the breeding grounds, feeds mainly out at the tips of branches of spruce trees. Will hang head downward at the tips of branches to pick insects from the undersides of needles. Often flies out several feet to catch flying insects in mid-air. In winter, may defend flowering plants from hummingbirds and other nectar feeders.

Nesting

Male defends nesting territory against other Cape Mays and other warbler species. During courtship, male displays by flying above female with wings held stiffly out. Nest: Placed very close to the top of a 35-60' spruce or fir, in thick foliage against trunk. Nest is cup-shaped and made of moss, vines, weeds; lined thickly with feathers and fur. Probably built by female. Nest is very hard to find because female flies into the tree low and then sneaks up the trunk to enter the nest; when leaving it, she moves down the trunk instead of flying directly away. Eggs: 6-7, sometimes 4-9. May lay more eggs during outbreaks of spruce budworm. Eggs whitish with red-brown spots. Probably incubated by female, unknown number of days. Young: Probably fed by both parents. Age at which young leave the nest is not well known.

Eggs

6-7, sometimes 4-9. May lay more eggs during outbreaks of spruce budworm. Eggs whitish with red-brown spots. Probably incubated by female, unknown number of days. Young: Probably fed by both parents. Age at which young leave the nest is not well known.

Young

Probably fed by both parents. Age at which young leave the nest is not well known.

Conservation

Numbers rise and fall, increasing during population explosions of spruce budworm and other insects in northern forests. Apparently has become more common overall in recent decades.

Range

Migrates mostly at night. Moves north from Caribbean mostly through Florida in spring. Many move south along Atlantic Coast in early fall. A few linger to late fall or even winter, especially outside normal range.

Listen

songs #2
songs & calls
songs #1
calls

Similar Species

adult male, breeding

Bay-breasted Warbler

This is a characteristic warbler of spruce forest in eastern Canada in summer. Its numbers vary from year to year, and are likely to increase quickly during population explosions of the spruce budworm or other forest pests. This species forages rather slowly compared to most warblers, moving deliberately among the branches. The male Bay-breasted Warbler is unmistakable in spring but goes through a striking transformation in fall, becoming a greenish "confusing fall warbler."

adult male, Myrtle, breeding

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Flashing its trademark yellow rump patch as it flies away, calling check for confirmation, this is one of our best-known warblers. While most of its relatives migrate to the tropics in fall, the Yellow-rump, able to live on berries, commonly remains as far north as New England and Seattle; it is the main winter warbler in North America. Included in this species are two different-looking forms, the eastern "Myrtle" Warbler and western "Audubon's" Warbler.

adult male, breeding

Blackburnian Warbler

A fiery gem of the treetops. In the northern forest in summer, the male Blackburnian Warbler may perch on the topmost twig of a spruce, showing off the flaming orange of his throat as he sings his thin, wiry song. The female also stays high in the conifers, and the nest is usually built far above the ground. Long-distance migrants, most Blackburnians spend the winter in South America, where they are often common in mountain forest in the Andes.

adult male, breeding

Magnolia Warbler

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adult, breeding, Yellow (Eastern)

Palm Warbler

A bird of thickets and open areas, usually seen low or on the ground. Birds from the easternmost part of the range ("Yellow Palm Warblers") are rather colorful, but most others are quite drab; however, they can be recognized by the constant bobbing of their tails. Many Palm Warblers spend the winter in the southeastern United States, especially in Florida, where they may be seen near palm groves but not up in the palms themselves.

adult male,breeding

Chestnut-sided Warbler

In leafy second-growth woods, clearings, and thickets, this warbler is often common, hopping about in the saplings with its tail cocked up at a jaunty angle. It is apparently much more numerous today than it was historically: John James Audubon, roaming eastern North America in the early 1800s, saw this bird only once. The cutting of forests evidently has created more brushy habitat for Chestnut-sided Warblers, even as it has made other birds less common.

adult male

Townsend's Warbler

The coniferous forest of the Pacific Northwest is the summer home of Townsend's Warbler. There the sharply marked males sing from high in the spruces and hemlocks; their buzzy songs are quite variable, and some are similar to those of the Black-throated Green Warbler, an eastern relative. Most Townsend's go to Mexico or Central America for the winter, but small numbers remain along the coast north to Oregon, Washington, and even Vancouver Island.

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