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Red-eyed Vireo
Vireo Nest

Above © Tony Coomer, Metz Wetland Bank, Woodbridge, Virginia

Nest © Eli Hosen

Red-eyed Vireo
Vireo olivaceus
Order: Passeriformes; Family: Vireonidae

The Red-Eyed Vireo is a relatively common bird in northern Virginia, but it spends its days in the treetops where it's harder to see.

Because it sings all through the day, not just early and late like many birds, you are likely to hear it if it's around. The male bird's song is a series of varying groups of notes that it uses to announce its presence to other males and to its mate when she's on the nest.

This bird is about five inches long (smaller than a chickadee), with greenish-brown feathers above, a grey head, and light-colored undersides. There are no pale bars or spots on its wings, but it does have a white "eyebrow' mark with a dark upper border.

Most small birds have black eyes, so why are this bird's eyes red? Many of the other birds have white rings around their dark eyes, so maybe the vireo's bright eye color is just another means of emphasizing the eye for use in displays to attract females or confront other males.

This species of vireo lives in forests and wooded suburban areas in southern Canada from British Columbia to Nova Scotia and in most of the United States east of the Rocky Mountains.

It feeds on large insects that it finds in the forest canopy. The female makes a hanging nest out of plant materials and hair on a branch about 40 feet up. She incubates the eggs while the male is off singing, but both birds will feed the young.

After the breeding season the birds migrate to central South America for the winter, where they may be found in flocks of mixed species, eating more fruit and berries than insects.