A Variety of Vireos

The birds of the genus Vireo are small with hooked beaks and mostly drab, greenish plumage (Vireo is Latin for “I am green”). There are about 30 species, all restricted to the New World. Of those, seven species can reasonably be expected to be found in southern Missouri at the appropriate time of year: Red-eyed, White-eyed, Warbling, Philadelphia, Bell’s, Yellow-throated and Blue-headed. Within the last week, four of those species have turned up in my yard.

Red-eyed Vireo

The Red-eyed Vireo is one of the more common summer birds here in the Ozarks. So much so that they quickly reach the status (shared by titmice, cardinals and gnatcatchers) where my reaction to seeing one is “eh, just another red-eye.” They’ve only been back a couple of weeks and they’re already dismissed as soon as they’re seen and identified. Their call is monotonous and unceasing, even the heat and humidity of a hot July day won’t silence them. Now, I may have given you the idea that I don’t care for the bird. That’s not the case. They’re just, well, common.

White-eyed Vireo

Another common bird in the area, but the White-eyed Vireo has personality. Loud and brassy, belying their small stature, they’re usually not hard to find. If the Red-eyed Vireo is Eeyore, then the White-eyed is Tigger. This is one of my very favorite birds, I’m always happy to run into one and I’ll stop and look even if it’s the tenth bird of the day.

Yellow-throated Vireo

I don’t encounter Yellow-throated Vireos nearly as often as the previous two, even though they stay and breed here into the summer. I’m not sure if that’s because there simply aren’t as many of them in the area or if it’s because they tend to stick to the open woods much more than the other two species. That’s a habitat that I tend to avoid during warm weather. I don’t like all those ticks, the deep shade in the woods makes for poor photography conditions and I tend to stick close to the water where there always seems to be more stuff happening.

Blue-headed Vireo

I see the Blue-headed Vireo even less frequently than the Yellow-throated. Of course, unlike the other three species here, the Blue-headed doesn’t stop to breed, just passes through. The birds we see here are probably heading for Canada or the extreme northern Midwest.

When I started birding twenty plus years ago, they were known as Solitary Vireos. In 1997 (I think), the species was split into the Blue-headed and the more western Cassin’s and Plumbeous Vireos. I can’t decide which name I like better. Either way, I adore this bird. I’d really like to find another this spring and get some better photos.

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