Blue-headed Vireos

Late in the morning on a cool, brightly sunny, windy day almost two weeks ago – Sunday, April 18 – two Blue-headed Vireos sang in the fresh green leaves of young oaks and tulip poplars on the edge of the woods in our neighborhood. With smooth blue-gray head, brilliant white spectacles around the eyes, crisp white wing bars, white breast, and a very faint wash of lemon-yellow on the sides, the vireos looked sleek and elegant among the wind-tossed, new-green leaves, and sang cool, graceful songs that reflected both their plumage and the bright spring day. Staying a fair distance apart, but in the same general area of trees, not too high, they sang back and forth, and I was able to watch and listen for several minutes.

I had found time for a walk that morning, but the rest of the day and the following week and more became so busy that I’m only now posting this very late account – but seeing the Blue-headed Vireos and hearing their songs is still vivid in my mind. It’s an image and a memory that stayed with me, like a small oasis of peace and beauty.

I heard their songs first – repeated series of clear phrases, similar to a Red-eyed Vireo’s song, but slower, sweeter and with different individual phrases that are smoother and more lyrical. In the Sibley Guide to Birds, the song is described as see you, cheerio, be-seein-u, so-long, seeya, high and sweet, with slurred notes. The songs of Blue-headed and Red-eyed Vireos are so similar, though, that I wasn’t sure until I saw one, and watched it for several minutes as it moved through the foliage, gleaning insects or other prey, singing as it went.

Usually Blue-headed Vireos are among the earliest neotropical migrants to pass through here in early spring, but this year they have seemed quite a bit later. These are the only ones I’ve seen this season, and I’ve seen fewer reports of them overall. So it was especially nice to find them.

Earlier on the same Sunday morning, our first Ruby-throated Hummingbird of the season came to the feeder. I think they’ve been in the area for much longer – it’s really late for us to see the first one – but just not coming to our yard, or maybe we haven’t been watching at the right times. Anyway – it was a female, and we were happy to see her.

It was a very windy day, tons of catkins blowing down from the oaks and pecans, with Northern Parula, Black-and-white Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Pine Warbler, Phoebe and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet singing around the back yard, a very distant Red-eyed Vireo singing and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers calling spee-spee. Mockingbirds and Brown Thrashers sang throughout the neighborhood, with Chipping Sparrows, Cardinals, Carolina Wrens and Bluebirds, and Brown-headed Nuthatches gave squeaky calls as they moved through the pines.

A Belted Kingfisher rattled as it flew over, flashing silver against the blue sky, and a Great Blue Heron also flew over, flapping ponderously. Both are not uncommon here, but we don’t see them every day.

Two Red-shouldered Hawks soared, calling kee-yer, so clearly lit by the bright sunlight the details of their warm, rich brown plumage were uncommonly clear, red shoulders glowing, and light pouring through the dark and light bands in their tails.

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