The Blue-headed Vireo

March 30, 2012

The Blue-headed Vireo is one of the first truly song bird migrants in the month of April at Mount Auburn, arriving one to two weeks before any other vireo.  Once known as the Solitary Vireo, the American Ornithologist Union (AOU) in 1977 recognized three distinct species:  the Plumbeous Vireo from the central Rockies; the Cassin’s Vireo from the West Coast; and the Blue-headed Vireo, which is found along the East Coast.

Actually an even better name might be “Spectacled” Vireo which refers to its more prominent white goggles rather than its “gray” blue head. The Blue-headed Vireo, like all vireos, is a slow-moving and methodical feeder tending to feed on limbs and stronger branches and rarely feeding on the outer branches like the warblers tend to do. Often it is not found feeding with other Blue-headed Vireos, hence the old name of Solitary Vireo, but will be found feeding with mixed flocks of warblers and other song birds. Sometimes it will fly out to catch insects in mid air.

The song of the Blue-headed Vireo is a sweet short series of two or three notes though some sound slurred and has often been described as “see-you”, “here I am”, “up here” “in the tree” with a very short pause in between the phrases. The song of the Red-eyed Vireo is similar but not as high pitched and is a bit faster making it difficult to separate the two species later in the migration. The Blue-headed Vireo has a call that has been described as a raspy descending series of calls: “cheh, cheh, cheh, check”.

I’ve found that the Blue-headed Vireo is quite responsive to pishing and will approach close to investigate. On their breeding grounds the male will sing until mid to late October, much longer than most of the migratory songbirds. Another interesting fact besides singing to gain a female, the male will build a nest to show the female he is willing; the “love” nest is often then abandoned after a pair-bond is established and another nest is built, the new site undoubtedly chosen by the female.

Check the bird sightings chalk-board in the east alcove of the Egyptian Revival Gateway the next time you visit Mount Auburn!

About the Author: Bob Stymeist

Bob Stymeist is Bird Observer's Bird Sightings Compiler and a regular bird walk leader for the Friends of Mount Auburn. View all posts by Bob Stymeist →

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