Yellow-throated Vireo – A View from Above

In a large thicket of trees, shrubs and vines near the side of the road that’s often a good birding spot, a small bird with a shimmering olive-green head and back emerged from the leaves, almost at eye level. As it moved out further, a startling olive-green face appeared, with yellow spectacles around the eyes, a brilliant yellow throat, and clean white bars marking the wings – a Yellow-throated Vireo.

A Yellow-throated Vireo is a bird found most often in the treetops, and though it sings a distinctive, strong and repeated song, it’s often difficult to see – or at least, to see very well. I think I’ve most often watched one from below – looking up through a tangle of branches and leaves as it sang, and seeing mostly its yellow throat.

But this time, I watched it from above for a few moments. It was an unusually close, clear view, and what I remember most vividly are the delicate wash of green on the head and the back, and the striking yellow spectacles around the eyes as it turned toward me – which made the encounter feel even closer than it was. It was quiet, moving rather slowly through the leaves, gleaning for insects and other prey.

Like a number of other forest birds, Yellow-throated Vireos have become less and less common here in the woods in Summit Grove over the past few years. Instead of hearing their songs all summer, as I used to, now I hear one only occasionally in the spring and summer as they pass through. While Yellow-throated Vireos prefer a habitat on the edges of a forest, they are known to require larger areas of forest for them to breed successfully. So here, it’s possible the woodlands that surround us have become too patchy and fragmented for them, though I don’t know that for sure.

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