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Cape May Warbler

Setophaga tigrina 

Length: 4.75 inches Wingspan: 7 inches Seasonality: Migrant
ID Keys: Male has crisp black stripes on yellow underparts, a chestnut ear patch, yellow on face and neck, and a large white wing patch.  Females similar but duller.

Cape May Warbler - Setophaga tigrinaThe Cape May Warbler leads very different lives during the summer and winter months.  During the summer, they are most often found in spruce forests, where they have access to their favorite summer food item, spruce budworms.  They spend their winter on Caribbean islands and in southern Florida, where much of their diet may shift to nectar, sap, and juices obtained from puncturing fruit.  The Cape May Warbler is the only warbler with a tubular tongue adapted to feeding on nectar from flowers.

Habitat: During the summer breeding season, they are found in spruce forest, usually in open forests or near woodland edges.  During migration, they also prefer conifers but can be found in deciduous trees and brushy thickets as well.  They are often found in palm trees during their winter months in the Caribbean and Florida.

Diet: In the summer, they primarily feeds on insects, and are especially fond of spruce budworms.  During migration and in winter, they often feed on nectar, and juice obtained by piercing fruits.  They will also drink sap from sapsucker drill holes.

Behavior: On summer on its preferred spruce forest habitat, usually feeds at the end of spruce branches in search of insects.  They will also occasionally fly out from a perch to capture insects in mid-air.

Breeding: Non-breeder in South Dakota

Song: A high-pitched see-see-see-see.

Migration: Summers throughout central and southeastern Canada, the Great Lakes region, and northern New England.  Winters in the Caribbean and southern Florida.

Interactive eBird Map: Click to access an interactive eBird map of Cape May Warbler sightings

Similar Species: Yellow-rumped Warbler, Palm Warbler

Conservation Status: Possibly has become more common in recent decades.  Populations seem to boom and bust with populations of spruce budworms, a favorite food item.

Further Information: 1) USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, Cape May Warbler

2) BirdWeb - Cape May Warbler

3) Audubon Guide - Cape May Warbler

Image Information: Colored pencil drawing by Terry Sohl - 2012


Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Cape May Warbler - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Rare migrant in the eastern part of the state, accidental in the west.

Additional Cape May Warbler Images
 Cape May Warbler - Drawing by Terry Sohl