Cape May Warbler, Setophaga tigrina

The common name for this bird, Cape May Warbler,  refers to the locality where Alexander Wilson first described the species, Cape May, New Jersey.  Interestingly, it was not recorded again in Cape May for more than 100 years.

This bird breeds in the boreal forest of Canada and the northern United States, where its abundance is largely tied to its favorite food, the spruce budworms (Choristoneura fumiferana).  It has a larger-than-average clutch size for a wood warbler enabling it to take advantage of years when there is a surplus of food.

During the winter the Cape May Warbler is confined almost exclusively to islands of the West Indies where it collects nectar using its unique curled, semi tubular tongue. The Palm Warbler is a fairly common migrant in East Tennessee; in Middle and West Tennessee it is uncommon in spring and rare in fall. The Cape May Warbler is usually present in the state from late April to mid-May and then again from mid-September to mid-October.

Description: The male breeding plumage of this small songbird is striking: the breast is yellow with thin black streaks; it has chestnut-colored cheek patches on the head, a yellow rump, and a large white wing patch. Females and juveniles are less boldly colored.

Length: 5.5"
Wingspan: 8"
Weight: 0.36 oz

Voice: The song is a simple repetition of 4 to 7 very high thin seet seet seet sweet notes.

Similar Species:

  • Yellow-rumped Warbler in the fall has streaks on its sides only, not on the central breast and belly, a larger yellow rump patch, and black streaks on the back.
  • Palm Warbler is yellow under the tail, not white, wags its tail, and has a streaked back.

Habitat: During migration, found in woodland and woodland edges.

Diet: Insects, especially spruce budworms, during the breeding season; nectar and insects in winter.

Nesting and reproduction: The Palm Warbler has not been documented nesting in Tennessee.

Status in Tennessee: Fairly common migrant in East Tennessee and a very rare winter visitor. In Middle and West Tennessee, it is uncommon during spring migration, rare in fall, and very rare in winter.