Blue headed Vireos live with us

By Dr. Jay V. Huner
Journal Correspondent

Novice birders often mistake vireos for warblers but the similarities are superficial. Most vireos are very drab and unlike warblers, they are very deliberate in their movements. Vireo songs are less musical and monotonous when compared to warblers. They are "noisy" but are often hard to find because they don't move much and remain concealed in foliage.

The Blue-headed Vireo is a winter visitor to our piney woods region. They nest in more northerly climes. A reasonable number spend the cool months here arriving in mid-fall and leaving in mid-spring. Others pass through going and coming from farther south in Mexico and Central America.

Older literature refers to the Blue-headed Vireo as a form of the Solitary Vireo found in the eastern part of North America with two other forms found much farther west. The other two "forms" are the Plumbeous form and Cassin's form.

So, no surprise, ornithologists have split the Solitary Vireo into three species - Blue-headed, Plumbeous and Cassin's vireos! Find either of the Blue-headed Vireo's "kissing" cousins in our area and plenty of birders will want to see them!

I think that the Blue-headed Vireo is a very handsome bird. The late Professor George Lowery, Jr. has a wonderful description of this species in the third edition of his book "Louisiana Birds" and here it is: "...The species is easily identified by the contrast between its bluish gray head and its green back, by its conspicuous white eye-ring and white lores, and by its immaculate white throat, breast, and belly. There is a wash of yellow or yellowish-green on the sides and flanks. It has two white wing bars...."

Note that some people refer to the white eye rings as "spectacles". The "lores" are white bars between the eyes and the bill.

Blue-headed Vireos arrive on northern breeding grounds before the deciduous trees and shrubs leaf out. So, they generally nest in coniferous vegetation including pines.

With few exceptions it makes no sense to describe bird songs and calls but now all one has to do is go to his/her search engine to access a bird's song and call. All vireos have pretty monotonous songs and calls. They'll sing continuously for what seems an hour or more when breeding. Blue-headed Vireos rarely sing during the winter period. But, they'll make a growling call when disturbed.

Blue-headed Vireos do start to sing shortly before leaving for their breeding grounds in the spring. The best way to describe their song is to say it\'c6s similar to that of the White-eyed Vireo but different enough to perceive a difference.

White-eyed Vireos are year round residents of our area but the range overlaps with that of the Blue-headed Vireo and many birds do migrate to Latin areas for the winter. They do somewhat resemble Blue-headed Vireos but their "spectacles" are yellow and the irises of their eyes are white. Both species "skulk" and can literally be within feet of you but never be seen despite singing and calling loudly!

Close examination of vireos will show that their bills are hooked, they have stout bodies, and their tails are short. They somewhat resemble shrikes " butcher birds" and eat mostly soft bodied insects, worms, and spiders. However, Blue-headed Vireos readily eat berries and fruits in the winter when animal prey is in short supply.