OFTEN HEARD BUT SELDOM SEEN. That’s a perfect description of vireos. This family’s members are found all over North America in the warmer months, and about a dozen vireo species are widespread north of the Mexican border. Their songs are among the most familiar sounds of late spring and summer, but the birds are actually very good at staying out of sight among the foliage. It’s worth the effort to get to know this melodic family.
Persistent Treetop Singers
The red-eyed vireo is a noteworthy summer bird found across the eastern United States and most of southern Canada. Although it is widespread, it hides high in trees, moving slowly among the leaves. Plain colors—olive above, white below, with just a couple of black stripes on the face—make it even harder to spot. But a red-eyed is easy to hear, because the males sing almost incessantly in late spring and summer, even on hot afternoons.
A red-eyed vireo’s song is a series of short, whistled notes separated by pauses. The swee?...sooyup... sissewit... swiswi... sounds like a choppy version of a robin’s voice and goes on and on. An old nickname for this species was “preacher bird,” perhaps applied by someone who thought the Sunday service dragged on too long. Red-eyed vireos live mainly in deciduous forests, but they are heard in towns and suburbs with enough mature trees.
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