Female. Note: sharp, dark bill and grayish auriculars.
  • Female. Note: sharp, dark bill and grayish auriculars.
  • Male. Note: rufous auriculars and yellow neck.

Hover over to view. Click to enlarge.

Cape May Warbler

Dendroica tigrina
Members of this diverse group make up more than half of the bird species worldwide. Most are small. However their brains are relatively large and their learning abilities are greater than those of most other birds. Passerine birds are divided into two suborders, the suboscines and the oscines. Oscines are capable of more complex song, and are considered the true songbirds. In Washington, the tyrant flycatchers are the only suboscines; the remaining 27 families are oscines.
This large group of small, brightly colored songbirds is a favorite of many birdwatchers. Wood-warblers, usually called “warblers” for short by Americans, are strictly a New World family. Most of the North American members of this group are migratory, returning in the winter to the tropics where the family originated. Warblers that nest in the understory tend to have pink legs and feet, while those that inhabit the treetops usually have black legs and feet. North American males are typically brightly colored, many with patches of yellow. Most North American warblers do not molt into a drab fall/winter plumage; the challenge posed to those trying to identify warblers in the fall results from looking at mostly juvenile birds. Their songs are generally dry, unmusical, often complex whistles (“warbles”). Warblers that live high in the treetops generally have higher-pitched songs than those that live in the understory. Warblers eat insects gleaned from foliage or captured in the air. Many supplement their insect diet with some seeds and fruit, primarily in fall and winter, and some also eat nectar. Most are monogamous. The female usually builds the nest and incubates four to five eggs for up to two weeks. Both members of the pair feed the young.

    General Description

    The adult male in breeding plumage is brightly and distinctively patterned, with olive back, yellow rump, strongly streaked yellow breast, bold white wing patch, and yellow neck and face with chestnut around and behind the eye. Other plumages are duller; consult a field guide for the fine points of separating these from similar plumages of some of the other Dendroica warblers.

    The Cape May Warbler breeds in the boreal forests of Canada as well as in northernmost New England and the upper Midwest, and winters in the West Indies and along the Caribbean coast south to Honduras. Although it nests as far west as southeastern Yukon and northeastern British Columbia its migration route lies almost entirely east of the Mississippi River Valley. Cape May Warbler is accidental in British Columbia away from its nesting grounds. Washington’s two accepted records were in September 1974 at Bellingham (Whatcom County) and February 2005 in Spokane (Spokane County). Idaho also has two records, in September and January. Oregon has 10 records, about evenly divided between spring and fall; three are from along the coast and the others from east of the Cascades.

    Revised November 2007

    North American Range Map

    North America map legend

    Federal Endangered Species ListAudubon/American Bird Conservancy Watch ListState Endangered Species ListAudubon Washington Vulnerable Birds List

    View full list of Washington State's Species of Special Concern