Monday, September 23, 2013

Cape May Warbler

Cape May Warblers breed in boreal coniferous forests across Canada, dipping down to northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and northern-most New England. They winter in the West Indies and in Central America. Alexander Wilson described this species from a specimen taken in Cape May, New Jersey. The bird was not seen there again for more than 100 years (Baltz and Latta 1998).

Over the years, I have seen Cape May Warblers numerous times, but never with a camera in my hand. The exception is this female bird I found near the Missouri River in South Dakota. The breast streaks and the yellowish color surrounding the cheek patches are the keys to identification. I have banded several fall-plumaged birds at my home in Northfield, but inexplicably I never photographed them. Surely I won’t repeat this lapse if ever I catch one of the gaudy plumaged spring males.

One problem when searching for Cape May Warblers is that this bird is a spruce budworm specialist. This warbler’s numbers explode when budworms are numerous. Between budworm outbreaks, Cape May Warblers may become extremely rare or even absent. Baltz and Latta (1998) report that the Cape May "has has a larger average clutch size than most wood-warblers [—six eggs—] which may enable it to increase rapidly during such short-term resource bonanzas.”

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