Warbler time at Ocean Bay

Cape May Warbler eyeing the fruit on a fig tree.

Ocean Bay Riverside is a red-hot hotspot on eBird right now, during spring migration, as warblers alight in the mangroves and fig trees for rest and refueling before resuming their epic semi-annual treks.

Cape May warblers were there when I stopped by on Sunday.

Many of our migratory warblers seem to lead double lives, and the Cape May is a good example. It summers in northern spruce woods, but winters in the Caribbean, where it is often seen in palm trees. In summer it eats insects, but during migration and winter it varies its diet with nectar from flowers and with juice that it obtains by piercing fruit. Birders easily recognize the tiger-striped males in spring, but drab fall birds can be perplexing.

Northern Parulas are found at Ocean Bay occasionally in winter but especially during migration and not at all during summer.

These wood warblers do breed in other parts of Florida though, mainly central and northern Florida, and all through the American South. They breed in forests where there is plenty of Spanish moss which they use for nest building. LINK.

Perhaps because the Northern Parula is the smallest eastern wood warbler, its wintering population in the United States is largely restricted to subtropical Florida. Curiously, the Northern Parula’s wintering distribution and breeding distribution in Florida hardly overlap.

They also winter in the Caribbean and eastern parts of Mexico and Central America.

This warbler is a female Black-throated Blue. During migration I have consistently spotted BtBs with other warblers like the Cape May, Northern Parula, and American Redstart. I suspect all of these warblers traveling together came from, or through, the Caribbean.

You can help these tiny long-distance travelers by turning off non-essential lights at night. Read about Audubon’s Lights Out program HERE.

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