Warbling VireoVireo gilvus

Garth McElroy/VIREO
Brian E. Small/VIREO
Glenn Bartley/VIREO
Glenn Bartley/VIREO
Dr. Edgar T. Jones/VIREO



Rather plain, but with a cheery warbled song, the Warbling Vireo is a common summer bird in leafy groves and open woods from coast to coast. Because it avoids solid tracts of mature, unbroken forest, it is probably more common and widespread today than it was when the Pilgrims landed. Some scientists believe that eastern and western Warbling Vireos may represent two different species; if that is true, then the two are very difficult to tell apart in the wild.


Deciduous and mixed woods, aspen groves, poplars, shade trees. Breeds in open deciduous or mixed woodland; also in orchards, shade trees of towns. Avoids unbroken mature forest. In the East, often in isolated groves near water. In the West, breeds in broad-leaved trees of mountains, canyons, and prairie groves. Winters in the tropics in open woods.

Feeding Diet

Mostly insects, some berries. In breeding season feeds mainly on insects, including many caterpillars, plus aphids, beetles, grasshoppers, ants, bugs, scale insects, flies, dragonflies; also eats some spiders and snails. Takes berries and small fruit from bunchberry, dogwood, pokeweed, sumac, elderberry, poison-oak, and many other plants, especially in late summer and fall.

Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly in deciduous trees, sometimes in shrubs, hopping along twigs and searching for insects among the leaves. also picks insects off the undersides of leaves while hovering briefly.


Male defends territory by singing. In courtship, male struts and hops around female with his wings spread and tail fanned, usually not far from potential nest site. Nest: In the East, usually placed high in tree, up to 90'. In the West, often found in shrub or tree within 30' of ground. Generally deciduous tree or shrub. Nest (built by both sexes) is a compact, deep cup, suspended by its rim from a forked twig. Nest made of bark strips, grass, leaves, and plant fibers. Eggs: 4, sometimes 3-5. White with brown or black specks. Incubation is by both parents, 12-14 days. Male frequently sings from nest while incubating. Commonly parasitized by cowbirds. Young: Nestlings are fed and brooded by both parents, leave the nest 12-16 days after hatching.


4, sometimes 3-5. White with brown or black specks. Incubation is by both parents, 12-14 days. Male frequently sings from nest while incubating. Commonly parasitized by cowbirds. Young: Nestlings are fed and brooded by both parents, leave the nest 12-16 days after hatching.


Nestlings are fed and brooded by both parents, leave the nest 12-16 days after hatching.


Since it favors open woods and edges, probably increased in some areas initially with clearing and breaking up of forest. Now common and widespread.


Migrates mostly at night. Most eastern breeders apparently travel north and south via Texas and Mexico, rather than flying across Gulf of Mexico.


song #1
song #3
eeah calls
vit and eeah calls
song #2

Similar Species

adult male, Pacific

Orange-crowned Warbler

One of the plainest of warblers, the orange feathers on its head almost never visible, this species is also among the most hardy. In winter, when most warblers are deep in the tropics, Orange-crowns are common in the southern states. They are usually seen singly, sometimes loosely associated with flocks of other birds. At all seasons they tend to stay fairly low, in bushes or small trees, flicking their tails frequently as they search among the foliage for insects.

adult male, breeding

Tennessee Warbler

This bird is found in Tennessee only briefly, during spring and fall migration; but there is no point in giving it a more descriptive name, because the bird itself is nondescript. The male makes up for his plain appearance with a strident staccato song, surprisingly loud for the size of the bird. Nesting in northern forests, the Tennessee Warbler goes through population cycles: it often becomes very numerous during population explosions of the spruce budworm, a favored food.


Black-whiskered Vireo

Found almost throughout the West Indies in summer, this is the Caribbean replacement for our common Red-eyed Vireo. In our area, Black-whiskered Vireos are summer residents mainly in southern Florida. There they can be heard singing constantly in the coastal mangrove tangles on hot days in May. Natives of the Caribbean know this bird well by voice, often giving it nicknames that suggest the short emphatic phrases of the song, such as "John-Philip" or "Whip-Tom-Kelly."

adult, Texas

Bell's Vireo

When it is glimpsed in low brushy thickets of the Midwest or Southwest, this bird looks totally nondescript. When it is heard, however, it is easy to recognize, singing a jumbled clinking song, as if it had a mouthful of marbles. The species has become less common in recent years in many parts of its range, partly because it is a frequent victim of cowbird parasitism; many pairs of Bell's Vireos succeed in raising only cowbirds, not their own young.


Yellow-green Vireo

This bird enters our area mainly as a rare summer visitor to southern Texas. It is a close relative of the Red-eyed Vireo, and at one time the two were considered to belong to the same species. Yellow-green Vireos nest mostly in tropical areas, from Mexico to Panama, where the climate would seem to be suitable for songbirds all year; despite this, they are strongly migratory, traveling south to the Amazon Basin for the winter.


Red-eyed Vireo

One of the most numerous summer birds in eastern woods. It is not the most often seen, because it tends to stay out of sight in the leafy treetops, searching methodically among the foliage for insects. However, its song -- a series of short, monotonous phrases, as if it were endlessly asking and answering the same question -- can be heard constantly during the nesting season, even on hot summer afternoons.


Philadelphia Vireo

This bird of the treetops is rather uncommon and often overlooked, or passed off as another vireo. It looks somewhat like a Warbling Vireo, and its song of short phrases sounds much like that of a Red-eyed Vireo. In some places where it overlaps with the Red-eye, the two species will even defend territories against each other. Despite its name, this vireo is only an uncommon migrant around Philadelphia, and does not nest in that region.


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