How to Identify a Cape May Warbler

Updated: Feb. 23, 2022

Learn all about the cheery Cape May warbler, including what males and females look like and how to attract them to your yard.

Bnbugc Gus AsimeniosCourtesy Gus Asimenios
Cape may warbler

What Does a Cape May Warbler Look Like?

The male Cape May warbler is a bright sight after a long winter. His breast is brilliant yellow with black streaks, his wings are gray-brown with patches of yellow, and he has a gray-brown head with rusty patches and a black stripe across his eyes. Females and immature birds appear similar, but they sport muted colors and lack the rusty feathers around the eye and cheek.

Discover more spring warbler birds you should know.

Bnbbyc19 Nina EhmerCourtesy Nina Ehmer

“I was not familiar with this bird when a flock arrived in my central Florida yard in October. I posted this photo (above) on a birding site, and it was identified as a Cape May warbler. It was a surprise to see them land on my hummingbirds’ favorite plant, the Russelia sarmentosa. At first I thought they were going after bugs, but after reviewing the photos I could see they were actually sipping nectar from the flowers,” Nina Ehmer says.

Check out 9 breathtaking Blackburnian warbler photos

Do Cape May Warblers Migrate?

They certainly do — in fact, the species name comes from Cape May, New Jersey, a migratory bird hotspot. (Psst – here’s how to be prepared for warbler migration season.) These warblers migrate through the eastern and part of the midwestern United States while on their way to the northern forests of Canada, where they spend the breeding season. When fall arrives, they migrate to the Caribbean for winter. It’s a lengthy journey for the little fliers: The trip from Ontario to Jamaica is 2,200 miles.

Learn all about the protonothary warbler — a sunny yellow bird that’ll stay in your birdhouse.

What Do Cape May Warblers Sound Like?

Listen for the male’s song. It consists of three or more high-pitched tseet notes at the same pitch and volume, either sung singularly or doubled (tseet-tseet).

Meet the colorful and cute Canada warbler.

How to Attract a Cape May Warbler

If you’re in the United States, you’re more likely to see Cape May warblers passing through your yard than sticking around for an entire season. But if you live within their range and would like to invite these cheery yellow birds to visit your yard, appeal to their sweet tooth. They often stop to eat oranges (just like Baltimore orioles!) or drink sugar water from hummingbird feeders.

Bnbbyc19 Catherine Forrest 2Courtesy Catherine Forrest

“The month of May brings spring warblers to Michigan. So it is fitting that while enjoying a beautiful spring day at Tawas Point State Park on Lake Huron, I spotted my first glimpse of a Cape May warbler (above). Warblers are so colorful and full of energy; luckily, this one decided to take a rest and I got a picture of it,” Catherine Forrest says.

Next, learn how to identify a palm warbler and a magnolia warbler.