Living Bird Magazine
Cape May WarblerSetophaga tigrina
- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Parulidae
Among the dazzling cohort of spring warblers, the first Cape May Warbler to arrive is a balm: its mossy green back, tiger-striped breast, and chestnut cheek patch make it unlike any other warbler. During the breeding season, the species lives remote from most human observers, in northern spruce-fir forests, where its nesting success is tied to its chief food, the spruce budworm caterpillar. These unusual warblers have specially shaped tongues that allow them to sip nectar from tropical flowers in winter—and sometimes from hummingbird feeders.More ID Info
Find This Bird
On breeding grounds, Cape May Warblers are locally common in spruce-fir forests, where they spend most of the day foraging high in the trees. Listen for males singing their high-pitched songs (be aware it’s quite similar to Bay-breasted Warbler’s song). During migration, the species is relatively common in the East, in many wooded habitats (and especially around planted spruces, in keeping with their summer habitat). It’s rare west of the Mississippi River. Most Cape May Warblers winter in the Caribbean, in lush habitats with plenty of insects and flowers.
- Reinita Atigrada (Spanish)
- Paruline tigrée (French)
- Cool Facts
- The tongue of the Cape May Warbler is unique among warblers. It is curled and semitubular, used to collect nectar.
- The common name of the species comes from Cape May, New Jersey, where Alexander Wilson first described it. After that first time, Cape May Warblers were not recorded in Cape May for more than 100 years.
- The average clutch size of the Cape May Warbler (6 eggs) is greater than that of other warblers. This large clutch size may allow Cape May Warbler populations to expand rapidly during outbreaks of their preferred prey, spruce budworms.
- The nest of the Cape May Warbler was not accurately described until the early 20th century.
- The oldest recorded Cape May Warbler was at least 4 years, 3 months old when it was found in 1978 in Quebec. It had been banded as an adult in Ohio in 1975.