CAPE MAY WARBLER – (Setophaga tigrina)
According to the Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas, this warbler species is the one mainly responsible for ‘warbler neck’ in birders, due to its habit of foraging and perching at the top of the tallest conifers.
The English name ‘Cape May’ refers to the location in New Jersey, USA, where the first specimen of this warbler species was found. The name remained even though no other bird was seen in that location for some 100 years. Warblers are thus called thanks to their generally melodious songs. The Latin name ‘setophaga’ refers to ‘moth eating’, and ‘tigrina’ means ‘tiger striped’, in reference to the black streaks on the breast of both sexes.
The adult male has a rufous patch under the eye.The throat is yellow, and this color extends on each side of the neck. The head and back are brown. The rump and most of the under parts are yellow. There is also a yellow band between the eye and the base of the bill. The wings are brown with a white band. Females have duller colors and no rufous patch under the eye. The bill and legs are dark grey.
A unique feature of this warbler species is its partially tubular tongue, which allows it to sip nectar and berry juice on its wintering grounds. Those are the Caribbean and coastal Central America.
The Cape May warbler is known to breed on PEI and sightings are ‘fairly common’ in spring and summer. Its overall breeding range is the boreal forest. It nests preferably in black spruce, near the top. During years of spruce budworm infestations, this warbler can lay up to nine eggs, a very large amount for this genus. Its numbers fluctuate in tandem with that pest’s cycle.
Conservation: Because the Cape May warbler life cycle is so dependent on the spruce budworm, spraying against that pest has contributed to a decline in its population. In spite of this trend, this species is still listed as ‘least concern’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.