If pressed to give a date to the start of this year’s fall migration, I would choose Aug. 20. It’s the day I finally added a new bird to my 2015 yard list after being stuck at No. 59 since June 2 when I heard a Yellow-billed Cuckoo calling from the woods behind my house. Needless to say, the months of June and July had not been very productive for adding new species to my list.
Yard Bird No. 60 turned out to be a White-eyed Vireo, which is not a summer nesting bird in my yard. Migrating White-eyed Vireos have often made visits in the past, so I was glad to welcome this species and add it to my list.
Photo Courtesy of Roy Knispel The White-eyed Vireo gets its name from the white iris of its eye.
On the same evening I observed the vireo, I also watched Ruby-throated Hummingbirds chase Blue-gray Gnatcatchers through the thin branches of a dead spruce tree. I also took delight in observing a family of Northern Cardinals — father, mother and two young birds — visit the feeders.
Known by the scientific name, Vireo griseus, the White-eyed Vireo is a member of a family of songbirds with several species that make their home in the region. This vireo gets its common name from the fact that it does indeed have white eyes.
Unlike some of its treetop-dwelling relatives, the White-eyed Vireo prefers to stay close to the ground in thickets and dense shrubbery. I often find these birds in the same habitats favored by such birds as Yellow-breasted Chat and Brown Thrasher. Like these larger birds, the White-eyed Vireo is a very vocal bird. The security of thick, inaccessible brushy habitats must give these birds, which are only a little more than five inches long, the confidence to go about their lives in a brash, noisy manner.
The term “vireo,” originating in Latin, can be translated into English as “green bird.” It’s an apt description, as many of these small birds are primarily dull green in coloration. The White-eyed Vireo adds some dull yellow, gray and white feathers to the mix in a distinctive pattern that should easily separate this bird from other vireos.
White-eyed Vireos spend the summer nesting season in the eastern United States south of a line extending from eastern Nebraska across Indiana and New York. Each fall, they retreat to spend the winter in locales ranging from the extreme southeastern United States through Central America. Some of these vireos also winter on Caribbean islands such as Cuba.
There is an endangered vireo, the black-capped vireo, a bird with a limited breeding range in Texas. Black-capped vireos numbers have dwindled to perilous levels due to the loss of low growing woody cover these birds need for breeding purposes. The cause of the loss of habitat varies, but includes the clearance of land for livestock as well as overgrazing by livestock and deer. In the past, fires regularly opened up such habitats. Due to modern fire control practices, such fires are no longer a natural occurrence. Since this species is already endangered, brown-headed cowbirds have also contributed to the problem since the cowbirds slip their own eggs into the nests of black-capped vireos.
When early naturalist John James Audubon painted the White-eyed Vireo, he knew it by the name “White-eyed Flycatcher.”
Two others, Bell’s vireo and gray vireo, are identified as species of concern on the Audubon Watchlist. This listing spotlights species that may bear intense scrutiny to make certain they don’t become endangered.
Other vireos that can be found in the United States, for at least part of the year, include Philadelphia vireo, plumbeous vireo and Cassin’s vireo. A specialty of Florida is the black-whiskered vireo.
Many species of vireo are also found in the islands of the Caribbean, including Jamaican vireo, Cuban vireo and Puerto Rican vireo. Some of the more colorful common names for vireos include the yellow-green vireo, golden vireo and yellow-winged vireo.
In Central and South America, the vireo family expands to include many birds with common names such as “Shrike-Vireo,” “Greenlet” and “Peppershrike.” Some of the varied species include the lemon-chested greenlet, green shrike-vireo and the black-bellied peppershrike.
Many vireos construct deep cup- or basket-shaped nests, often in the higher branches of tall trees. Male and female share incubation duties and work together to feed their young.
Photo by Bryan Stevens Blue-gray Gnatcatcher have been abundant again, another sign of the approaching fall migration.
Most vireos feed on insects during their summer stay north of the border. However, during migration they often feed on berries and continue to do so on their wintering grounds. Experts have noted that the White-throated Vireo is particularly fond of gumbo-limbo seeds. This tropical tree can be found from southern Florida and Mexico, as well as throughout the Caribbean and in South America in Brazil and Venezuela.
To learn more about birds, birding and other topics from the natural world, be sure to friend Bryan Stevens on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ahoodedwarbler. He is always posting about local birds, wildlife, flowers, insects and much more. If you have a question, wish to make a comment or share a sighting, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo by Bryan Stevens A dragonfly sighting that turned out to be a Ruby Meadowhawk is another sign that the fall migration season is at hand.
Photo by Bryan Stevens A Common Buckeye seeks nutrients in damp mud on a recent August afternoon.