Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Cape May Warbler - Setophaga tigrina
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General Comments The Cape May Warbler has a breeding range similar to that of the Tennessee Warbler, being a classic bird of the boreal spruce-fir forests across most of Canada and the northeastern edge of the United States. Unlike that species and most other warblers, the Cape May winters in the West Indies, and thus it migrates through more of the state in spring and fall, though it is nonetheless quite scarce in the Coastal Plain in spring. Its spring route is mostly through the mountains and western Piedmont, but in fall it spreads out more across the state. As with nearly all transient warblers, birds usually feed in the canopy of hardwood forests and groves (in spring), though they do occur in pines and spruce trees. In recent years, a few Cape Mays have remained into winter, usually at bird feeders; however, it is by no means a winter resident species.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank SZ
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Transient, and winter straggler. In spring, generally rare along the western border, but very rare to rare elsewhere. In fall, often fairly common (after fronts), and at times can be common along the northern coast after a cold front, less numerous farther south. In winter, formerly casual or accidental; now, very rare, mainly close to the coast, but relatively few into Jan or Feb. Mainly late Apr to mid-May, and late Aug to mid-Oct. One seen about 30 miles off Cape Hatteras Point (Dare) on a pelagic trip on 21 May 2023 was quite unusual. Peak counts: 300, seen mainly in flight at Run Hill State Natural Area (Dare), 15 Oct 2023; 260, "Outer Banks", 7 Oct 1978.
Piedmont Transient, and winter straggler. In spring, fairly common in the western third, uncommon in the central portion, and rare to uncommon in the eastern portion. In fall, uncommon to at times fairly common throughout. Very rare in winter in the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area, but casual to very rare farther west; mainly at feeders. All winter records of single birds except for two that may have overwintered at the UNC campus in Chapel Hill; they were seen and photographed on several dates from 12 Feb - 29 Mar 2017. Mainly late Apr to mid-May, and early Sep to mid- or late Oct; however, many records in Dec, Jan, Feb, and Mar. Peak counts:
Mountains Transient. Fairly common in both spring and fall; in spring, mostly at low to middle elevations, but can occur at all elevations in fall. Generally more numerous in fall than in spring. Mainly late Apr to mid-May, and early Sep to late Oct. Peak counts:
Finding Tips The best bets are perhaps the southwestern Piedmont, such as Polk, in spring, and along the Blue Ridge Parkway in mid-fall. Of course, pure migrants can be "chancey" to see on a given day, but over a several-day period, some should be found, especially in mixed-species flocks in fall.
Attribution LeGrand[2024-02-11], LeGrand[2023-08-10], LeGrand[2023-04-07]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
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