Cape May Warbler in Markham

Miranda and Tim O'Hara reported on Ontbirds on 13 February 2015 that their Cape May did not make it through the bitterly cold night with temperatures close to -28 C. They last saw it at 5:30 p.m. on the afternoon of 12 February after it fed and warmed up at their feeder and heater. The Cape May will be missed after bringing such joy to everyone who saw it  - a study in survival in this record cold winter.

This first winter male Cape May Warbler is frequenting a feeder in Markham, Ontario, and on 1 January 2015, Ron Pittaway and I visited the home of Miranda and Tim O'Hara. It has been here since 7 December 2014. Most Cape May Warblers spend the winter on Jamaica, Cuba and other islands in the Caribbean, where I have seen them in Cuba in February.


The O'Haras put out a variety of fruits such as oranges, blueberries, strawberries, bananas and grapes, The Cape May loves grapes the most. This seems surprising for a spruce budworm specialist in the breeding season when it eats mainly larvae, spiders and insects. However, an attraction to grapes is normal because in the nonbreeding season its diet includes fruit and nectar, especially grapes and grape juice. Early in the last century it was reported to cause damage in commercial vineyards by puncturing ripe grapes to get at the fruit. (Cape May Warbler account in The Birds of North America on-line and in Bent Life Histories)


Interestingly, Cape May is the only warbler to have a curled semi-tubular tongue, which is an adaptation for drinking fruit juice and nectar.


Because there are few insects and larvae available as food at this time of year, the Cape May also eats peanuts and suet. It needs protein and fat to survive.


A heater on the window ledge helps keep the fruit from freezing and provides much needed heat on below freezing days, which the Cape May appreciates because it spends time nearby keeping warm.