Earlier this month I had stopped at Forest Park for a quick, late-morning, visit as we birders in Queens tend to do, especially in May, and was impressed by the diversity and number of birds singing. This was before full leaf-out, especially on the taller trees, so many birds were feeding low to the ground and the understory was not as thick as it would be even a week later. One bird in particular caught my eye – a brilliant Cape May Warbler singing and foraging from ground level up to about ten feet. It was not shy. In fact, it was amazingly confiding. I started firing away with my digiscoping rig, but interrupted that process to make sure that I got the attention of Kelly and Richie, a wonderful couple who happened to be birding nearby. Together, the three of us appreciated the Cape May Warbler for at least ten minutes before it finally moved on and left us feeling astounded.

Can you blame us?

Cape May Warbler

I have long thought that the Cape May Warbler should have its common name changed to match its scientific name, Setophaga tigrina, because “Tiger Warbler” is a much cooler name. It also makes sense, what with the black-on-yellow stripes and its pugnacious personality when it comes to defending both feeding areas and its breeding turf.

Fortunately for birders, the Cape May Warbler is considered a Species of Least Concern by Birdlife International because of its large range and large and stable population.  It breeds across Canada’s boreal forest and most winter in the Caribbean, though some spend the cold months in Central America.  The Cape May Warbler is one of several species of wood-warbler that are considered Spruce Budworm specialists and their population is believed to fluctuate with outbreaks of the conifer pest. Judging by the number of Cape May Warblers that birders have been seeing around the New York City area over the last couple of years Canada must be in a period of increased Spruce Budworms, which is bad for the trees but good for us birders!

Cape May Warbler Setophaga tigrina

It was hard to keep up with the rapid movements of the Cape May Warbler as it hunted down its invertebrate prey but I managed some decent shots.

Cape May Warbler 4

This bird, though peaceful looking, definitely was a tiger. It chased off both a Magnolia Warbler and a Black-and-White Warbler while we watched it.

Cape May Warbler 2

It was constantly scanning for more food to eat, and would grab caterpillars and other prey with lightening-fast lunges.

Cape May Warbler Setophaga tigrina

What an amazing bird!

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Written by Corey
Corey is a New Yorker who lived most of his life in upstate New York but has lived in Queens since 2008. He's only been birding since 2005 but has garnered a respectable life list by birding whenever he wasn't working as a union representative or spending time with his family. He lives in Forest Hills with Daisy and Desmond Shearwater. His bird photographs have appeared on the Today Show, in Birding, Living Bird Magazine, Bird Watcher's Digest, and many other fine publications. He is also the author of the American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of New York.