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Bird Watch: Vireos

By Brian M. Collins
Published: September 1, 2009
Red Eyed Vireo 4-800
The red-eyed vireo.
Photo by Brian M. Collins
If you live within a stone’s throw of an acre of trees you have no doubt heard a vireo singing. About 5 inches long, vireos often sing from the tops of trees on leaf-laden branches that sway in the wind. However, spotting one might prove more challenging. Its nest is camouflaged with bits of birch bark, old spider webs, lichens and other scraps from the local environment, so it’s difficult to find, even when hanging at eye-level in a young tree. A good pair of binoculars, persistence and a stiff neck will eventually reveal the singer. Red-eyed vireos are one of the most common forest songbirds in North America, and they perform an important ecological role in regulating the populations of tree-dwelling insects.
Yellow Throated Vireo Great Eye-800
Yellow-throated vireo.
Photo by Brian M. Collins

Other vireos are not as common, but each species seeks out a particular habitat. Yellow-throated vireos occupy mature woodlands near rivers and streams. Warbling vireos prefer patchy woodlands, and Bell’s vireos prefer shrubby wetland habitats. Where pine and spruce abound, the blue-headed vireo squeaks out a song that sounds suspiciously like, “Ah-choo!” Among the moist thickets and overgrown fields, the white-eyed vireo adds an upbeat and energetic tempo to the concept of vireo song.

It seems every habitat has a vireo. Though they may be teasing you from above, chiming in that little song, “I see you … I see you … I see you,” the joke may be on them. After all, you are the one with the binoculars.

Brian M. Collins helped to study vireos in Puerto Rico a number of years ago, but his neck is still strong from the searching!

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