Fall Migration in Cape May

Each fall, migrating songbirds, hawks, monarchs and more funnel into southern New Jersey’s peninsula in great numbers. Here's a sampling of who to look for at our South Cape May Meadows Preserve right now.

Northern saw-whets are some of the smallest owls in the world. Banding studies conducted in Cape May Point have documented the importance of the Atlantic coast as a fall migration route for these diminutive raptors.

Every September and October, monarch butterflies stop in Cape May before continuing their 2,000 mile migration to Mexico. Though monarch population numbers continue to vacillate, monitoring groups are cautiously optimistic about Cape May’s 2017 crop of butterflies.


In Autumn, large numbers of American woodcock congregate in woodlands and thickets, where they feed heavily on earthworms to build up their body-fat reserves before crossing Delaware Bay and continuing south.


The common loons we see in New Jersey are likely migrating from eastern Canada. They leave the northern lakes that serve as their summer breeding grounds and head down the Atlantic coast. Loons eat fish and are agile swimmers, but they are also speedy in the air—they’ve been clocked flying at more than 70 mph!


The northern flicker is one of the few North American woodpeckers that is strongly migratory, traveling south from Alaska and Canada each fall season. Unlike other woodpeckers, northern flickers prefer to dig for—and eat—ants from the ground.



Green-winged teal will “dabble” with other duck species, but can be differentiated by their small, compact bodies that float high out of the water. During winter migration, look for green-winged teal in shallow wetlands and marshes.


Iridescent blue tree swallows migrating to Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean sometimes form enormous flocks numbering in the hundreds of thousands of birds, which have been known to darken the skies of Cape May in the Fall.


In power-diving from great heights to strike prey, the peregrine falcon may reach 200 miles per hour, making it one of the fastest bird species in existence. Peregrines are found on every continent except Antarctica, and the Atlantic Flyway is one of their known migratory paths.


Yellow-rumped warblers travel in large flocks from the northern reaches of Canada every winter, flooding the southern US, Atlantic coastline, Mexico and Central America. They love the shrubby habitats of New Jersey’s coast like those found in Cape May.


The American kestrel is the smallest and most common falcon in North America. Some of these fierce raptors will migrate south from Canada, but some take up year-round residence in the lower 48 states. They can frequently be spotted along mountain ridges, on telephone poles and scouting for prey (predominately large flying insects) from high in treetops.


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