The blue-headed and red-eyed vireo

by James R. Hirtle

The blue-headed vireo is one of the earlier migrants to return and they usually arrive back between the end of April and early May.

The red-eyed vireo arrives much later and is usually first seen around the third week of May or later. When on territory, both vireos are usually very hard to get a good look at. I took an annual trip to Pine Grove Park to see the rhododendrons and azaleas on June 5 and while there I was pleased to get good looks at both species of vireos.

The blue-headed vireo, originally called the solitary vireo, summers across Canada, the Great Lakes states and New England, south in the mountains to Georgia and the Rocky Mountain states to the Pacific coast.

The blue-headed vireo is 12.5 cm to 15 cm with a wingspread of 20.6 to 24.4 cm. It is olive green above, with a blue-gray head and a conspicuous white-eye ring, and white below with two white wing bars. There are usually yellowish feathers along the flanks.

The blue-headed vireo eats mostly insects, with large amounts of caterpillars and moths. They eat bugs especially stink bugs, beetles, bees, wasps, ants, stone flies, dragonflies, grasshoppers, crickets, some spiders and some fruit such as wild grapes, dogwood and viburnum berries and others.

The red-eyed vireo summers across Canada and almost the entire United States. It was once considered one of the most abundant birds of the deciduous forests of North America but is now showing declines.

They are 13.5 to 15.6 cm with a wingspread of 24.4 to 26.9 cm. The red-eyed vireo has olive to greenish upper parts, white underparts and does not have wing bars. It has a gray cap and a white stripe over ruby-red eyes, with a black stripe through each eye.

The red-eyed vireo eats mostly insects. They forage for caterpillars and moths being a very effective enemy of gypsy moths, brown-tail moths and fall webworms. They take beetles, wasps, bees, ants, bugs, flies, walking sticks, cicadas, spittle insects, treehoppers, scale insects and many others. They like blackberries, elderberries, fruits of spicebush, dogwood, Virginia creeper, sassafras and magnolia trees.

In Pine Grove Park on June 5 I counted one blue-headed vireo, four red-eyed vireos, four song sparrows, nine ovenbirds, one black-throated green warbler, 14 mallards, two American black ducks, one black-capped chickadee, a common tern, one American goldfinch, one eastern wood pewee, and two least flycatchers. I usually see more warbler species there. It was my first visit for that time of year without seeing a number of blackburnian warblers.

On June 4, I joined up with Chris Field and Steven Morris to bird Second Peninsula. It was a successfully outing as we found 45 species. Of particular note were lots of northern cardinals and red crossbills at two locations. We had 10 species of warblers and it was wonderful to hear and see bobolinks at several locations. We had killdeer only for shorebirds. We saw both least and alder flycatchers. Osprey was the only hawk species that we found. There were a number of great blue herons. We had a group of 12 cedar waxwings, which was wonderful to see.

On June 2, Barbara McLean observed cedar waxwings, chestnut-sided warbler, American redstart and yellow warbler along the Back Harbour Trail in Lunenburg. On June 4, she saw six chimney swifts over her house along Green Street in Lunenburg. Kevin Lantz heard a Virginia rail calling on June 4 in Hebbville.

I've been birding with a number of people recently who are using the new birding app called Merlin. This app records the birds that are calling and is very effective in identifying the birds that are present. It is free and everyone that I've spoken to is highly impressed with it.

Andy Tanas was using this app to see what was about at 18:20 in the evening at the residence of Cathy Ramey of Crousetown on June 4. He recorded American goldfinch, cedar waxwing, American robin, purple finch, mourning dove, northern cardinal, black and white warbler, indigo bunting, brown-headed cowbird, yellow-rumped warbler, black-capped chickadee, common night hawk, gray catbird and blue jay.

Jake Walker and Dominic Cormier found an eastern bluebird going into a birdhouse at South Brookfield on June. 2. They also discovered seven eastern bluebirds between Port Royal and the Grandville Ferry on that day.

You may reach me at (902) 693-2174 or email jrhbirder@hotmail.com.

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