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Cape May Warbler

These small Warblers are known as one of the last Warbler species to migrate south in the fall, and one of the first to return in the spring.

Despite its name, the Cape May Warbler is only a migrant through Cape May, New Jersey as it heads from its boreal forest breeding grounds to Mexico and the Caribbean and back each year. Alexander Wilson first described the Cape May Warbler from Cape May, but the next record of the species there was over 100 years later.

Cape May Warblers typically forage in the tops of trees on their breeding and wintering grounds, but during migration they sometimes come to hummingbird feeders or grape vines. During the breeding season they specialize in consuming spruce budworms.


Description of the Cape May Warbler


The Cape May Warbler has yellowish underparts heavily streaked with black and a yellow frame around the cheeks.

Males have greenish upperparts streaked with black, a blackish crown, and an orange cheek.
Length: 5 in.  Wingspan: 8 in.

Cape May Warbler


Females have grayer upperparts and a gray crown and cheek.

Seasonal change in appearance

Fall birds are duller.


Immatures are similar to dull fall adults.


Cape May Warblers inhabit spruce forests, but in migration they occur in a variety of woodlands.


Cape May Warblers eat insects, but also nectar and fruit juices.

Cape May Warbler

Photograph © Glenn Bartley.


Cape May Warblers forage at the tips of spruce branches, and also flycatch.


Cape May Warblers breed in southern Canada, the northeastern U.S., and the Great Lakes region. They winter in the Caribbean. The population is probably stable, though it varies with spruce budworm outbreaks.

More information:

Bent Life History

Visit the Bent Life History for extensive additional information on the Cape May Warbler.


Fun Facts

The nests of Cape May Warblers are very difficult to find, in part because of their height, and in part because the female is careful and elusive when coming or going.

The Cape May Warbler’s thin, slightly decurved bill helps it obtain nectar and juices during the winter.


The song is a high-pitched series of weak notes. A high-pitched flight call is also given.


Similar Species

Blackburnian Warbler
The female Blackburnian Warbler has much oranger throat without streaks.  First winter females are similar, Blackburnian has stronger face patter, yellowish chin.

Yellow-rumped Warbler
Fall Yellow-rumped Warbler bears vague  resemblance to first winter female Cape May.  Mentioned here because the Yellow-rumped is one the most common and wide-spread warblers, and winters in the United States.

Magnolia Warbler
Magnolia Warblers have a bright yellow throat, no red on face as on male Cape May.

Female Magnolia – first winter


The Cape May Warbler’s nest is a cup of vines, moss, and weeds lined with finer materials. It is placed near the top of a spruce trunk.

Number: Usually lay 6-7 eggs.
Color: Whitish with darker markings.

Incubation and fledging:
Very little information is available regarding incubation and fledging.


Bent Life History of the Cape May Warbler

Published by the Smithsonian Institution between the 1920s and the 1950s, the Bent life history series of monographs provide an often colorful description of the birds of North America. Arthur Cleveland Bent was the lead author for the series. The Bent series is a great resource and often includes quotes from early American Ornithologists, including Audubon, Townsend, Wilson, Sutton and many others.

Bent Life History for the Cape May Warbler – the common name and sub-species reflect the nomenclature in use at the time the description was written.


This is the bird that made Cape May famous. Dr. Stone (1937) suggests that it has “served to advertise the name of Cape May probably more widely than has been done in any other way.” The inappropriate name Cape May warbler was given to it by Alexander Wilson (1831), who described and figured it from a specimen of an adult male taken by his friend, George Ord, in a maple swamp in Cape May County, N. J., in May, 1811. He never saw it in life and never obtained another specimen. Audubon never saw it in life, the specimens figured by him having been obtained by Edward Harris near Philadelphia. Nuttall apparently never saw it.

Dr. Stone (1937) writes: “Curiously enough it seems never to have been recorded again at Cape May until September 4, 1920, when I recognized one in a shade tree on Perry Street in company with some Chestnut-sided Warblers. Since then we have seen a few nearly every year in spring and fall both at Cape May and at the Point.” It is perhaps not to be wondered at that the early ornithologists knew so little about it before 1860, for bird observers were few and widely scattered in those days, and the Cape May warbler is only a hurried migrant through the United States over a very wide immigration range, nowhere very abundant, and its numbers seem to fluctuate from year to year.

Some years before Wilson named the Cape May warbler, a specimen of the same bird flew aboard a vessel off the coast of Jamaica and was painted and described by George Edwards. This was the basis of Gmelin’s name tigrina, little tiger. Although not striped exactly like a tiger, it has carried this name ever since.

Spring: Cape May warblers leave their winter home in the West Indies in March and pass through the Bahamas and Florida in March and April, northward along the Atlantic coast, and branch out ~vestward to southern Missouri and up through the Mississippi Valley to Minnesota and Canada. Very few stop to settle much short of the Canadian border. Dr. Chapman (1907) writes of the spring migration: “In early May in Florida, I have seen this species actually common, feeding in weedy patches among a rank growth of poke-berries. It seemed like wanton extravagance on the part of nature to bring so many of these generally rare creatures within one’s experience in a single morning. Both on the east and west coasts of the State the bird is at times a common migrant, possibly bound for its summer home by way of the Mississippi Valley, where it is more numerous than in the north Atlantic States.”

Amos XV. Butler (1898) says:

The Cape May Warbler is generally considered a rare bird everywhere. Wbile this is true, and some years it is altogether absent, there are years when it is common and even abundant. In Indiana it appears as a migrant, perhaps more numerous in fall than spring. * * * Some years with us they are found UPOD the drier uplands, among the oak woods, where they usually keep among the lower branches or upon the high bushes and smaller trees. They are not very active, hut keep persistenly hunting insects. At other tunes, we find them among our orchards, even coming Into towns, where they occupy themselves catching insects among the foliage and about the blossoms of all kinds of shade and fruit trees.

In Ohio, according to Milton B. Trautman (1940), “the bird was uncommon in every spring except 1, and seldom more than 10 individuals were noted in a day. Between May 14 and 20, 1926, the species was very numerous throughout central Ohio. On May 16 I noted at least 40 individuals in Lakeside Woods, and it was evident that hundreds were present in the area on that day.” Referring also to Ohio, W. F. Henninger (1918) writes: “This year, on May 25, 1917, we entered a large patch of woods about half a mile from the Grand Reservoir early in the morning, just when the fog had barely raised above the treetops, and the warblers were fairly swarming there, among them numbers of Cape May’s. I counted more than fifty, but got tired counting and then gave it up, after taking a fine pair.” Rev. J. J. Murray (MS.) refers to this warbler as common in the vicinity of Lexington, Va., in the spring from April 29 to May 18, where it seems to prefer conifers at that season.

I have seen the Cape May warbler fairly common in Florida at times and I have collected it there, but I have never seen it in my corner of Massachusetts. Mr. Forbush (1929) tells the story very well for this State:

For nearly one hundred years at least this species had been considered very rare in New England, but about 1909 it seemed to become more common. In May, 1912, at Amesbury, Massachusetts, one chilly morning I found bright males scattered through the village. A cold wave, catching them in nIght migration, had brought them down, and they could he seen here and there on or near the ground, and in low bushes by the roadside. In the dooryards and along the streets these lovely birds hopped and fluttered fearlessly in their search for food, paying little attention to passers-by. By 1915 they had appeared more generally, and In May, 1917, they were well distributed over a large part of New England.

Since that time Cape May Warbiers have been not uncommon transients in certain years, and they have never been as rare as they formerly were. In migration they may be found in trees and shrubbery about dwel]ings and along village streets almost as commonly as in woods or in swampy thickets, where at this season they find many insects. Occasionally a few may be seen in blossoming orchards.

Courtship: In formation on the courtship behavior of the wood warbiers is so scanty that it seems worthwhile to include two small items on this subject for the Cape May warbler. While watching a pair at their nest-building, Dr. Merriam (1917) observed that “on June 11 the male was seen to chase the female. The next day nest building was apparently complete. An hour’s watching on the 13th also failed to show any further nest construction, although the female was frequently heard in the low growth. Once she flew ten feet up in a spruce and gave a peculiar note at the same time lifting her tail. Immediately the male flew down and copulation took place. The whole proceeding resembled very much that of the Chipping Sparrow.” James Bond (1937) noted at times that, “when the female was working on the nest, the male would fly with rigid wings just above her. This was a characteristic courting display, noted with other individuals.”

Nesting: The Cape May warbler seeks for its summer home the country of the pointed firs and spruces that tower like tapering church spires in the Canadian Life Zone of our northern border and in Canada. It seems to prefer an open, parklike stand of these noble trees rather than the denser coniferous forests, though it often finds a congenial home along the borders of the forests or in the more open spaces within them, especially where there is a mixture of tall white or yellow birches, or a few hemlocks. Its breeding range follows the Canadian Zone rather closely, as along the cool coastline of eastern Maine. James Bond writes to me of its interesting distribution in that state: “In the eastern half of the state it is found mainly along the coast, as far south as Hog Island, Knox County. It ranges across Maine through Washington, Aroostook and northern Penobscot Counties, but is a rare species in the interior, and is unknown in summer from the Bangor and Lincoln sections of Penobscot County. I found it most abundant in southern Mount Desert Island in the vicinity of Ship Harbor. Here several pairs nest every year in the cool, often fogdrenched woods, although I have found but one nest.”

The first published report of the nesting of the Cape May warbler was perhaps based on an error in identification. Montague Chamberlain (1885) reported that his friend James W. Banks found a nest apparently “just outside the city limits” of Saint John, New Brunswick; he states that it “was hid among a cluster of low cedars growing in an exposed position, on a rather open hill-side, near a gentleman’s residence, and within a stone’s throw of a much frequented lane. The ne~t was placed less than three feet from the ground and within six inches of the tips of the branches.” The location of this nest, as will be seen from the accounts that follow, was entirely different from that of the many nests found since; both nest and eggs were said to resemble somewhat those of the magnolia warbler; no male Cape May warbler was seen or heard, and the bird Banks reports having shot from the nest may have been wrongly identified, since the females of the two species are somewhat alike. Referring to this account, James Bond (1937) remarks: “It would be wise to regard the ‘classical’ nest taken near Saint John, New Brunswick, by Banks as that of a Magnolia Warbler, as is indicated not only by its situation but by its construction, for the nest of the Cape May Warbler is a decidedly more bulky affair. I mention this since recent books still perpetuate this undoubted error, ignoring the information that has been gleaned during the past twenty years.”

Probably the first undoubted nest of the Cape May warbler was found on an island in Lake Edward, Quebec, on June 7, 1916, by Dr. II. F. Merriam, who published an interesting account of it (1917). lie watched the building of the nest for some days before the nest was taken on the eighteenth. The female was seen carrying nesting material into the thick top of a spruce about 40 feet from the ground in a rather open part of the woods, consisting for the most part of spruce and balsam of moderate size interspersed with large white and yellow birches.

The female was not at all timid and apparently gathered most of her nesting material at two places, both within sixty feet of the nest tree. * * While searching in the low growth she was absorbed in manner, giving only occasionally a sharp chip. In going to the nest her actions were more rapid and she chipped more frequently, generally alighting ten to twenty feet below the nest and workkg her way up from limb to limb on the outside of the tree. * * * The male was not seen to carry any nest material but seemed to be generally In the immediate neighborhood. At times he accompanied the female part way to or from the nest and sometimes remained near her in the low spruces. * * *

The nest was placed about six feet from the top of the tree on a short hranch nine inches from the trunk and an equal distance from the tip. From the ground it could not be seen even with field glasses. From a few feet below the nest was apparently a green ball of moss. Closer examination, however, showed it to be a neatly cupped nest resting on the branch and short twigs. To these it was not securely tied nnd was lifted Intact from its position without difficulty.

The exterior of the nest was of green Sphagnum moss, interwoven with vine stems, and a very few twigs, bound lightly with plant down, smaU wads of which appeared here and there over the moss. The body of the nest consisted of fine grass stems. Within this was a lining of white hairs apparently from the rabbit, one small partridge feather and a fexv fine black rootlets. The nest was bulky but very neatly and fairly compactly put together. At the rim one side was very smoothly finished. This was probably the entrance side toward the tree trunk. It was an unusual and beautiful nest.

Its dimensions were: outside, 4 inches wide by 214 deep; inside, 154 inches wide by 1 inch deep.

Two years later, Phulipp and Bowdish (1919) found four nests in northern New Brunswick. “They were in rather high spruce trees, within two or three feet of the extreme top, usually as near the top as suitable site and cover could be secured. All were built in very thick foliage, against the main stem of the tree, resting lightly on twigs and foliage, but fairly secured thereto by webs, and were entirely invisible from the ground, in every case.” The nests were from 35 to 40 feet above the ground, and were not substantially different in size and construction from that described by Dr. Merriam. They add that the thick lining of hair, feathers, and a little fur, all smoothly felted, serves to distinguish the nests from those of the black-poll and myrtle warbiers, and note that the nest tree is usually “fairly openly situated, at least as to one side, although this is not always the case, since other pairs watched were very evidently nesting in trees where it was much more difficult to detect them.”

Richard C. Harlow has sent me the data for seven nests of the Cape May warbler that he collected in Tabusintac, New Brunswick, in 1919. Two of these were 55 feet from the ground in a fir, and the others were 35, 45, 50, 55, and 60 feet up, respectively, in black spruces. All were in the very topmost shelters of the trees, and three of them were in heavy forests, the others being on the edges. In other respects they were similar to those described above. The females sat very closely until almost touched, and then dropped down to the ground.

The nest found by James Bond (MS.) on Mount Desert Island, Maine, was against the trunk of a red spruce 38 feet above ground and about 4 feet from the extreme top of the tree. In construction it was similar to those described above. In his published (1937) paper the tree was said to be a black spruce, but he now writes to me that it was a red spruce and that there were no black spruces in the immediate vicinity; these two spruces are difficult to distinguish.

Dr. Paul Harrington, of Toronto, writes to me that he found a nest of the Cape May warbler in an open spruce forest near Dorcas Bay, Bruce Peninsula, on June 12, 1934. “The tree was about 35 feet high, a typical ‘church spire.’ Near the top was a heavy clump, but I could see nothing that indicated a nest; when I put my hand in the heavy needles near the trunk a bird popped out and straight down. * * * I carefully groped about and eventually found the nest, built near the trunk in the uppermost clump of needles.”

Eggs: Mr. Harlow tells me that the Cape May warbler lays from 4 to 9 eggs to a set. The larger numbers must be very rare, but 6 or 7 seem to be the commonest numbers among my records, and sets of 4 seem to be uncommon. The eggs vary in shape from ovate to short ovate and are almost lusterless. They are creamy white, richly spotted and blotched with shades of reddish brown, such as “auburn,” “chestnut,” “scyal brown,” “bay,” or “snuff brown,” with an occasional scrawl of black. The undermarkings are of “fawn,” “light brownish drab,” “brownish drab,” or “light mouse gray.” The markings are more concentrated at the large end. The measurements of 50 eggs average 16.8 by 12.5 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 18.4 by 12.3, 18.0 by 14.0, 15.0 by 12.0, and 16.0 by 11.5 millimeters (Harris).

Plumages: Dr. Dwight (1900) describes the juvenal plumage, in which the sexes are alike, as “above, dark hair-brown, olive tinged on the back. Wings and tail black, edged chiefly with dull brownish olive-green, the coverts with drab and tipped with buffy white. The two outer rectrices with subterminal white spots. Below, including sides of head, mouse-gray with dusky mottling or streaking on the breast and sides; the abdomen and crissum dingy white faintly tinged with primrose-yellow.”

The partial postjuvenal molt, beginning early in July, involves the contour plumage and the wing coverts, but not the rest of the wings or the tail. This produces the first winter plumage, in which the sexes begin to differentiate. Dr. Dwight describes the first winter male as “above, dull olive-green, each feather centrally clove-brown veiled with olive-gray edgings; the rump canary-yellow, the feathers basally black. Below, including sides of neck, superciliary lines and spot under eye, canary-yellow, palest on abdomen and crissuin, narrowly streaked on sides of chin, on the throat, breast and sides with black which is veiled by grayish edgings; auriculars mouse-gray.” The young female, he says, is “duller and browner above, and generally without yellow below, being dull white with gray streaking.”

The first nuptial plumage is acquired by a partial prenuptial molt beginning in late winter, “which involves much of the body plumage but not the wings nor the tail. The black crown, the streaks on the back, the chestnut ear-patches and the streaked yellow of the throat and breast are acquired,” in the male. The female in first nuptial plumage “shows a little yellow assumed by a limited prenuptial moult.” Both sexes are now in nearly fully adult plumage, except for the worn juvenal wings and tail.

Adults have a complete postnuptial molt in July and probably a partial prenuptial molt, as in the young bird, though there is not enough pertinent material available to prove the latter. Dr. Dwight (1900) says that the adult winter plumage of the male is “similar to first winter plumage but the head black, the back streaked and everywhere veiled with smoke-gray edgings. Below, whitish edgings obscure the black streaks, the chestnut ear-coverts and the bright lemon-yellow areas. The wings and tail are blacker than in first winter, the back is black, either streaked or spotted, and the yellow below is deeper.” Of the female, he says: “The adult winter plumage is similar to the male in first winter dress, the yellow below rather paler and with less heavy streakings.”

Food: Tbroughout most of the year the Cape May warbler is insectivorous, and mainly beneficial, but for a short time on its fall migration it undoubtedly causes damage to ripe grapes by puncturing them to obtain the juice, often ruining a large percentage of the crop. Many complaints have been made and several have been published. Frank L. Burns (1915a) claimed that about 50 percent of his crop was destroyed at Berwyn, Pa., and says: “I believe that grape juice was the principal food of the Cape May Warbler during its lengthy visit in this neighborhood. It was present in countless numbers at Berwyn and vicinity as far as a mile south of the village, apparently by far the most abundant species for a period; the complaints of the the ‘little striped yellow bird’ were many, and so far as I am able to learn, all unbagged grapes were ruined; the loss must have been many tons worth several hundred dollars.” He sent ten stomachs to the Biological Survey for analysis and received the following reply:

Hymenoptera constituted on an average 57.5 percent of the contents of the stomachs. A third perhaps of this material was parasitic Hymenoptera and their destruction counts against the bird. The others were ants and small bees and are of neutral importance except perhaps the ants which may be injurious. Diptera made up 16.7 percent of the stomach contents and again a large proportion of them were parasitic species. Lepidoptera (small moths) constitute 16.7 per cent, beetles 7.8 percent and the remainder was made up of Hemiptera, spiders and miscellaneous insects. Except for the spiders the food was entirely composed of insects, and a large proportion of useful species were taken and no decidedly injurious ones. I should say that these Cape May Warbiers did very little to pay for the destruction of grapes.

McAtee (1904), after investigating the damage done on grapes by this and the Tennessee warbler in Indiana, published the foflowing report on the contents of a siiigle stomach of a Cape May warbler:

8 Typlocyl~a comes, an especial pest of the grape, “an exceedingly abundant and destructive” jassid; 3 Aphodiu~ inquinatua and one Carabid, kinds which may be considered neutral economically, but, In case of a departure from their ordinary diet, would on account of vegetarian tendencies become injurious; 1 Drasterias ep. (click-beetle), 1 tortoise-beetle, 1 flea-beetle (Haltica chaZ~jbea), all injurious beetles, the last of which is a particular enemy of the grape, which ‘appears on the vine in early spring and bores into and scoops out the unopened buds, sometimes so completely as to kill the vine to the roots,” and later in the season in both larval and adult stages feeds upon the foliage, and if abundant “leaves little but the larger veins”; 1 Notozu~ sp., a weevil, with all the undesirability characteristic of the creatures bearing that name; 2 ants, harmful, If for no other reason than harboring plant lice; and a vespoidean hymenopteron (~vasp) of neutral significance. * * *

The feeding habits of the birds may, from the present knowledge, be declared practically entirely beneficial. In return it seems not too much to expect that we should without complaint furnish, for a few days in the year, the drink to wash the great numbers of our insect enemies down to their destruction; and to consider these two little fellows as among the worthiest as they are among the prettiest of our warbler friends.

Prof. Maurice Brooks (1933), speaking of this warbler in West Virginia, says:

We had at that time [1909] a small commercial vineyard, and during the first week in September, when the crop was just ripening, we were surprised to find in the vineyard swarms of Cape May Warbiers. We were not long in doubt as to their purpose there, for within a week they had destroyed practically every grape we had. * * * Their method was to puncture the skin of the berry at one point, extract a little juice, and move on to the next. They would systematically work over every berry in the cluster, if undisturbed, and they soon became exceedingly tame. It is no exaggeration to say that there were hundreds of the birds in the locality.

After the birds had made one puncture, swarms of bees and wasps soon finished the work of destruction. There was no way of frightening so many birds away, and we were driven to sacking our grapes in the future. The next year, 1910, they returned in numbers again, destroying practically all unsacked clusters, and completely cleaning out the vines of our neighbors, who raised just a few grapes for their home use.

These and other warbiers have been seen drinking sap from the holes dug in trees by sapsuckers, but they also obtain some insects from such borings and perhaps also from the punctured grapes, which make fine insect traps. However, the damage does not seem to be universal, and occurs only where the birds are abundant, and then for only a short time. In view of his record as an insect destroyer, the laborer may be worthy of his hire.

To the insects mentioned as food for this warbler, A. H. Howell (1932) adds small crickets, flies, lea.f hoppers, termites, larvae of moths, dragonflies, and daddy-long-legs.

Behavior: Brewster (1938) writes:

It keeps invariably near the tops of the highest trees whence it occasionally darts out after passing insects. It has a habit of singing on the extreme pinnacle of some enormous fir or spruce, where it will often remain perfectly motionless for ten or fifteen minutes at a time; on such occasions the bird is extremely hard to find, and if shot Is almost certain to lodge on some of the numerous spreading branches beneath. * * In rainy or dark weather they came in numbers from the woods to feed among the thickets of low firs aud spruces in the pastures. Here they spent much of their time hanging head downward at the extremity of the branches, often continuing In this position for nearly a minute at a time. They seemed to be pIcking minute Insects from the under surface of the fir needles. They also resorted to a thicket of blossoming plum trees directly under our window, where we were always sure of finding several of them. There were numerous Hummingbirds here also, and these, the Cape Mays were continually chasing.

While watching a pair at their nest building, Dr. Merriam (1917) saw a female on the ground gathering material; she “was attacked by a Junco and after a chase the Junco actually caught and held her. At this commotion the male Cape May flew down and lit close by but took no active part in the argument. The Junco was apparently victor for after one more flight to her nest the female Cape May was not again seen to trespass on the Junco’s territory or do any more nest building that mornino” however, in his notes from West Virginia, Dr. J. J. Murray says that “this warbler is more active and restless in its feeding than any of our warblers, except possibly the myrtle; and it is also noisier and more aggressive in its attitude toward other warblers which seek to share its feeding places.” Harlow also says that “the male Cape May is the tiger of the north woods in defending his territory. He attacks all birds that come close to the nest, up to the size of the olive-backed thrush, and’ is absolutely fearless.”

Voice: Aretas A. Saunders sends me the following note on the song of this warbler: “I have had few opportunities to study the song of the Cape May warbler, and have only five records. These show that the song is weak, high-pitched and somewhat sibillant. The notes are mainly all on one pitch, in even rhythmic time and from eight to eleven in number. They are pitched on E”” and F””. Two of the songs have one or two notes, near the end, a half-tone higher in pitch than the others. The songs are from 1% to 2 seconds in length.”

Francis H. Allen (MS.) heard one singing and feeding in some Norway spruce in West Roxbury, Mass., on May 10. “He had chip notes very much like a familiar note of the chipping sparrow. (I have also recorded a prssp like that of the blackpoll warbler but fainter and sometimes doubled.) This bird had a variety of songs. The simplest one resembled the black and white warbler’s song and a short simple song of the redstart, but was thinner and harder in quality than the latter. Then there were other, more elaborate songs, some divided into two parts and some into three. Two or three times he sang several times with no pauses between, making what was practically a long continuous song. The chief characteristic of the songs, I should say, was short and staccato double notes, the latter part of which were very high-pitched. These repeated several times formed the simplest of the songs. The song in three parts reminded me of that of the Tennessee warbler, but was higher pitched and not so full and loud. The bird had long periods of silence, but sang freely when he did sing.”

Brewster (1938) says that “the song of this Warbler is harder: or at least sharper and more penetrating: than that of either the Bay breast or Blackburnian. In these respects it resembles the song of Pro tonotaria but the tone or quality is more wiry and, indeed, very close to that of Mniotilta.”

Field marks: T he adult male Cape May warbler should be unmistakable in his brilliant spring plumage, with his black cap, chestnut cheeks, white lesser wing coverts, and bright yellow breast conspicuously streaked with black.

The female lacks the black cap and chestnut cheeks; her breast is pale yellow streaked with pale dusky; and all her colors are duller. Young birds are much like the female, but are still duller in coloration. See descriptions of other plumages. The tail-tilting habit is quite pronounced.

Fall: The fall migration starts in August and is prolonged through September, or even into October or a little later. The birds are numerically more abundant in the fall because of the large families of young, but they are less conspicuous while the foliage is still on the trees and while they are clad in dull autumn and immature plumages. Deciduous woods seem to be their favorite haunts at this season. The migration route is a reversal of the spring route, the main flight being between the Mississippi and the Alleghenies.

In this area, the birds are often excessively abundant, as shown by the accounts in the preceding paragraphs under food. They are common in Florida on migration on their way to the Bahamas and West Indies. C. J. Maynard (1896) writes:

“They were very abundant at Key West in November, frequenting the gardens near the houses where they were searching among the tropical trees and shrubs for inesets. The birds were very unsuspicious, often clinging to branches which overhung the sidewalks within a few feet of the passengers. They appeared to prefer the inhabited portion of the Key, for I rarely found them in wooded districts. The majority left the island before the first of December, but a few remained all winter.”

Winter: Maynard (1896) says: “These birds are also common on all of the northern Bahamas which I have visited, occurring in the thickets about gardens as well as in the dense scrub. I found them abundant on Inagua in February, 1888. Here they were feeding upon the juices of a large tubular flower of a peculiar species of vine, in company with the Bahama Honey Creeper and the Lyre-tailed Hummingbird.”

In Cuba, according to Dr. Barbour (1923), “a few arrive from time to time during the autumn, but in February they become really common; they stay until May. They are great flower feeders and haunt aloes and the majagua tree when it is in bloom. Many may be seen about the sisal plantations near Matanzas and in gardens where agaves blossom.~~ Wetmore and Swales (1931) write: “Though the Cape May warbler is found through the Greater Antilles Hispaniola appears to be the winter metropolis of the species as the birds are found throughout the island often in considerable numbers. In fact their abundance in some localities is almost bewildering to one acustomed to their rarity as migrants in the eastern United States.”

Range: Eastern North America and the West Indies.

Breeding range: The Cape May warbler breeds north to northeastern Alberta (Chipewyan); possibly southwestern Mackenzie (Simpson); northern Saskatchewan (north shore of Lake Athabaska near Fair Point) ; central Ontario (Moose Factory) ; and southern Quebec (Lake Abitibi, Lake Edward, and Anticosti Island). East to eastern Quebec (Anticosti Island and Grand Gr~ve) ; New Brunswick (Tabusintac and Saint John); and Nova Scotia (Wolfville and Stewiacke). South to Nova Scotio (Stewiacke); southern Maine (Ship Harbor, Mount Desert Island; Hog Island, Muscongus Bay; Pemaquid Point; and Auburn); northern New Hampshire (Lake Umbagog); southcentral Vermont (Mount Killington) ; northern New York (North Elba) ; southern Ontario (Dorcas Bay and Biscotasing) ; northern Michigan (Newberry and Camp Cusino) ; northern Wisconsin (Kelley Brook and Harbster) ; rarely northeastern Minnesota (Gabro Lake); southwestern Ontario (Lac Seul); and central Alberta (Lesser Slave Lake and Sturgeon Lake). West to west-central and northeastern Alberta (Sturgeon Lake and Chipewyan). The Cape May warbler probably breeds in northern Manitoba since it is a regular, though not. abundant, migrant in the southern part of the province.

Winter range: The winter home of the Cape May warbler is in the West Indies north to the Bahamas (Nassau and Watling Island), east and south to St. Lucia, and west to Jamaica and western Cuba (Isle of Pines and Habana). It has also been found on the island of RoatAn, Honduras. It was found in Quintana Roo not far from Xcop6n on March 13 which is the second record for Mexico; the other is simply “YucatAn.”

Migration: Late dates of spring departure from the winter home are: Virgin Islands: St. Croix, April 25. Puerto Rico: Mayagiiez, April 8. Haiti: fle ~ Vache, April 30. Cuba: Habana, May 4. Bahamas: Nassau, May 15.

Early dates of spring arrival are: Florida: Key ‘~Vest, March 6. Georgia: Macon, April 7. South Carolina: Chester, April 15. North Carolina: Greensboro, April 13. District of Columbia: Washington, April 19. Pennsylvania: Carlisle, April 30. New York: Geneva, April 30. Massachusetts: Amherst, May 4. Vermont: Clarendon, May 7. Maine: Auburn, May 4. New Brunswick: Scotch Lake, May 8. Nova Scotia: Pictou, May 11. Quebec: Montreal, May 14. Tennessee: Nashville, April 16. Kentucky: Russeliville, April 27. Indiana: Bloomington, April 22. Ohio: Oberlin, April 27. Michigan: Ann Arbor, April 27. Ontario: London, May 1; Moose Factory, May 28. Iowa: Davenport, May 2. Wisconsin: Racine, May 2. Minnesota: St. Paul, May 2. South Dakota: Sioux Falls, May 12. North Dakota: Argusville, May 11. Manitoba: Aweme, May 10. Saskatchewan: Indian Head, May 16. Alberta: Medicine Hat, May 17.

Some late dates of spring departure of transients are: Florida: Warrington, May 18. Alabama: Anniston, May 7. Georgia: Round Oak, May 15. South Carolina: Clemson (College), May 17. North Carolina: Arden, May 19. Virginia: Naruna, May 29. District of Columbia, Washington, May 30. Pennsylvania: Doylestown, May 26. New York: Watertown, June 1. Massachusetts: Northampton,. June 6. Tennessee-Nashville, May 15. Kentucky: Bowling Green, May 10. Illinois: Chicago, June 3. Indiana: Lafayette, May 31. Ohio: Austinburg: June 2. Michigan: Sault Ste. Marie, June 7. Ontario: Ottawa, June 7. Minnesota: Minneapolis, June 1. South Dakota: Sisseton, June 3. North Dakota: Grafton, June 5. Manitoba: Aweme, June 1.

Late dates of fall departure are: Alberta: Camrose, August 26. Saskatchewan: Eastend, August 29. Manitoba: Winnipeg, October 7. North Dakota: Fargo, October 3 (bird banded). Wisconsin: Racine, October 16. Iowa: Iowa City, November 27. Michigan: Detroit, October16. Ontario: Point Pelee, October 5. Ohio: Cleveland, November 2. Indiana: Waterloo, October 15. Illinois: Rantoul, October 23. Kentucky: Bowling Green, October 15. New Brunswick: Scotch Lake, September 28. Massachusetts: Belmont, November 25. New York: Hewlett, November 15. Pennsylvania: West Chester, October 31. District of Columbia: Washington, November 26. Virginia: Sweet Briar, November 29. North Carolina, Raleigh, November 1. South Carolina: Mount Pleasant, November 3. Georgia: St. Marys, October 31. Florida: Lemon City, November 25.

The Cape May warbler sometimes lingers very late in fall migration. It has been found on Long Island at Hewlett as late as December 4; at Harrisburg, Pa., one was trapped and banded on December 5; it has twice been collected at Washington, D. C., on December 16; one was found at Bethany, W. Va., on December 7; one seen at Brownsville, Tex., on December 22; and reported in December at Key West, Fla.

Early dates of fall arrival are: Manitoba: Winnipeg, August 20. North Dakota: Fargo, September 18. Minnesota: Minneapolis, August 25. Wisconsin: Green Bay, August 1. Illinois: Chicago, August 19. Ontario: Cobalt, August 12. Michigan: Whitefish Point, August 5. Ohio: Toledo, August 14. New Hampshire: Pequaket, August 24. Vermont: Wells River, August 4. Mamachusetts: Harvard, August 30. New York: Rhinebeck, August 3. Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh, August 28. District of Columbia: Washington: August 4. Virginia: Charlottesville, September 4. North Carolina: Weaverville, September 15. South Carolina-Charleston, September 13. Georgia: Savannah, September 23. Florida: Sombrero Key, September 17. Bahamas: Cay Lobos, October 20. Cuba: Santiago de las Vegas, September 20. Dominican Republic: Sdnchez, October 23. Puerto Rico: Faro de Cabo Rojo, September 17.

Banding: The one banding recovery available is especially interesting as it indicates a peculiar migration. A Cape May warbler banded at Elmhurst, Long Island, N. Y., on September 12, 1937, was caught by a cat October 15, 1937 at Cleveland, Tenn.

Casual records: In British Columbia one was collected June 17, 1938, at Charlie Lake. In California one was collected at Potholes on the Colorado River, September 23, 1924. A specimen labeled “Arizona” taken before 1876 is in the museum in Paris. The Cape May warbler has been once observed in Bermuda, April 3, 1909.

Egg dates: Maine: 2 records, June 6 to 15.

New Brunswick: 68 records, June 10 to 29; 43 records, June 12 to 20; indicating the height of the season.

About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

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