BIRDS OF NEW ENGLAND AND EASTERN NEW YORK - HOFFMANN

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VIREOS: FAMILY VIREONIDÆ

Four Vireos occur in summer in nearly all southern New York and New England, and another species passes through as a migrant. In northern New York and New England, especially in the upland, only two are common. The Red-eyed Vireo is universally distributed; it occurs wherever there are trees. The White-eyed Vireo breeds commonly in low thickets as far north as southern Rhode Island and Connecticut, and rarely in eastern Massachusetts. The Yellow-throated and Warbling Vireos are birds of the shade trees in village streets, or tall trees in groves or along streams. The Solitary Vireo occurs in summer in the cool northern woods, and as a migrant in the rest of New York and New England. The Vireos feed in trees, hopping and flying from one twig to another, keeping in fairly constant motion, but in a leisurely fashion. They are stouter than warblers and their tails are shorter in proportion to their length. They are unwearying singers, the Red-eye alone furnishing a large proportion of the woodland chorus. All the Vireos come down to the ground on occasions, for instance to pick up nesting material, but as a rule only the White-eye comes habitually below a line ten feet above the ground; the Red-eye and Solitary vary from ten to thirty; the Yellow-throat between twenty and thirty; the Warbling between thirty and sixty. All but the Yellow-throat are chiefly gray in color. All the Vireos build neat, cup-shaped nests, hung generally from a forked twig.



WHITE-EYED VIREO. Vireo noveboracensis [Vireo griseus]
5.27 in.

Ad.— Upper parts greenish-yellow in strong light; throat grayish-white; line from bill to and around eye yellow; sides and belly very yellow; wing-bars yellowish; iris white, visible at a greater distance than the red iris of the Red-eyed Vireo.

Nest, a cup hung from a fork in a low horizontal bough, sometimes from a vine. Eggs, like the Red-eye’s.

The White-eyed Vireo is a common summer resident in southern Connecticut and in the vicinity of New York city, but is rather local in Massachusetts, and absent north of that State. It arrives early in May, and stays through September. It frequents tangled thickets, particularly in lowlands. It seems to be a more excitable bird than the other Vireos, and begins to scold and sing whenever its thicket is approached. It greets a visitor with a startlingly energetic song, containing the notes chip-whee-oo. Besides this phrase the White-eye has a great variety of notes, many of them imitative of other birds; I have heard it give the chip-churr of the Tanager and the dick'-you of the Chewink. Its scolding-note is a mew, suggesting that of the Catbird.

The White-eyed and Solitary Vireos both have a strong yellow tinge on the sides of the belly, but in the former the line to and around the eye is yellow, while in the latter it is white. The White-eye is small and is rare north of Connecticut; the Solitary is larger and breeds in northern New England, passing through southern New England and the Hudson Valley before the White-eye arrives.

BLUE-HEADED VIREO; SOLITARY VIREO. Vireo solitarius
5.61 in.

Ad.— Top and sides of head dark slate-gray; line from bill to and around eye white; back gray, with a greenish-yellow tinge in strong light; wing-bars white; throat and breast white; sides of breast dark gray; sides of belly greenish-yellow.

Nest, a cup hung from a fork in a horizontal branch. Eggs, white, sparsely spotted with brown at the larger end.

The Solitary Vireo is confined in summer to the Canadian and the sub-Canadian areas, but is a common migrant through the rest of New York and New England, passing north in the latter part of April and early in May, and returning late in September and early in October. As a migrant it frequents almost any piece of woodland, often coming into orchards and about houses. It breeds in deep, cool woods, either evergreen or deciduous, preferring possibly the former. It is much less common than the Red-eye, and its voice is louder and richer, so that as one passes along a woodland road, the Solitary Vireos inhabiting the region are easily noted, and are found to be separated by far greater intervals than the Red-eyes. The song resembles that of the Red-eye in form, but it has a sweeter, more appealing tone. Certain passages are characteristic; one is a “double note," that is a phrase repeated quickly in a lower key; another resembles the syllables to-wee'-choo, the singer sliding from a high to a low note. Sometimes the singer has a fit of ecstasy in which he runs his phrases, ordinarily separated by considerable intervals, rapidly together, and follows them by sweet twittering. The song is not infrequently heard in the autumn, when the bird is migrating south. The alarm-note is an unmusical chatter, similar to that of the Yellow-throated Vireo.

The white ring around the eye of the Solitary Vireo and the white line from the eye to the bill are excellent fieldmarks.

[graphic]

Solitary Vireo



YELLOW-THROATED VIREO. Vireo flavifrons
5.95 in.

Ad. Head and upper back greenish-yellow in strong light; rest of back gray; wing-bars white; throat and breast bright yellow.

Nest, a cup hung from a twig, from ten to twenty-five feet above the ground. Eggs, white, spotted with brown at the larger end.

The Yellow-throated Vireo is a summer resident in central and southern New York and New England; it is rare north of Massachusetts. It arrives in early May, and stays till the middle of September. Like the Warbling Vireo it prefers the shade trees in the village streets and about houses, and the tall trees along streams; in the northern part of its range it is found only along the alluvial flood plains of large rivers. After an interval of silence in August, it sings again in September, especially early in the morning, and continues to do so till its departure.

The song in form resembles those of the Red-eye and the Solitary, and differs from that of the Warbling Vireo. It is made up of separate phrases, one with a rising, the next with a falling inflection. The notes are louder and richer than those of the Red-eye, but generally harsher and more querulous than those of the Solitary. The phrases are separated by considerable intervals, giving the song a more leisurely character than that of the Red-eye. The male has a harsh chattering note with which he scolds intruders.

The bright yellow throat should distinguish this bird from other vireos, It resembles the Pine Warbler very closely in coloration, and during migration the two might occur in the same places. Ordinarily, however, the Vireo would rarely, if ever, be found in evergreens, and the Pine Warbler rarely away from them. The songs of the two species are very different, and on close inspection the Vireo is seen to be heavier, with a stout bill, while the Pine Warbler has a more slender bill.


WARBLING VIREO. Vireo gilvus
5.80 in.

Ad. — Upper parts brownish-gray; under parts grayish-white, with a slight yellowish tinge on the belly; a whitish streak over eye, but no dark line through it.

Nest, a cup hung from a fork, from twenty to forty feet up. Eggs, white, spotted with reddish-brown at the larger end.

The Warbling Vireo is a rather common summer resident of southern and central New England and of the lower Hudson Valley. In northern New York and New England it is confined to the neighborhood of villages in the valleys. In most of New England, in fact, it is a bird of the village street rather than of the woodland, though it is also found in tall trees along streams. It arrives a little earlier in May than the Red-eyed Vireo, and leaves in September.

Warbling Vireo

Warbling Vireo

The Warbling Vireo is less frequently seen than the Red-eyed, as it often stays for hours in tall shade-trees, but its song is uttered constantly, and affords an easy means of distinguishing it from its relative. It is a true warble, that is, a succession of smooth notes run into one another, and though repeated in the height of the breeding season more than four thousand times a day, never varies perceptibly. The song of the Red-eyed is made up of short phrases of almost endless variety. Beginners often have great difticulty in distinguishing the song of the Warbling Vireo from that of the Purple Finch. The song of the Finch is extremely rapid and energetic; the Vireo's is deliberate and languid compared with the burst of melody that the Finch utters. The Warbling Vireo, after a period of silence in August, sings again in September, but only for a short time, early each morning. Both sexes have a querulous call-note, which suggests the mew of the Catbird.

If seen at close range, the Warbling Vireo may be distinguished from the Red-eyed by the different appearance of the side of the head; there is no dark streak through the eye, nor is the light line over the eye bordered above by a black line. From the following species it may be distinguished by the absence of a yellowish tinge on the throat and breast.



PHILADELPHIA VIREO. Vireo philadelphicus
4.75 in.

Ad.— Upper parts grayish, tinged with green in strong light; top of head clear gray; cheek gray; a whitish line over eye; under parts distinctly but not strongly tinged with yellow.

Nest and eggs, like those of the Red-eyed Vireo, but slightly smaller.

The Philadelphia Vireo breeds from northern New England northward, and in most of New York and New England occurs only as a very rare migrant, generally in September or early October. In northeastern Maine, in the vicinity of Lake Umbagog, and at Dixville Notch, N. H., it is not uncommon. Here it frequents the thin growth of poplar and bird-cherry in clearings and along roadsides rather than the deeper woods. A male sang constantly in June, 1903, in a group of birches almost under the eastern windows of The Balsams, at Dixville Notch.

The song is at times identical with that of the Red-eyed, though generally a little more languid. One phrase suggests, in form, but not at all in power and sweetness, the double note of the Solitary Vireo. The scolding-note is a harsh twee-twee-twee, which closely resembles that of the Warbling Vireo.

A good look at the bird should leave no doubt of its identity; the side of the head resembles the Warbling Vireo instead of the Red-eyed, but the entire under parts, particularly the breast, are distinctly tinged with yellow. (See Brewster, “ Auk,” 1903, p. 369, and Dwight, “ Auk,” 1897, p. 259.)


RED-EYED VIREO. Vireo olivaceus

6.23 in.

Ad. — Upper parts brownish, with a greenish tinge in strong light; crown gray, bordered on each side by a blackish line ; line over the eye white; dusky stripe through eye; under parts white, with no tinge of yellow.

Nest, a cup hung from a fork, from five to twenty-five feet up. Eggs, white, spotted with brown, chiefly at the larger end.

The Red-eyed Vireo is a very common summer resident throughout New York and New England, arriving in May, and sometimes staying into October. It lives in deciduous trees, and may be found wherever they occur, the woods, orchards, plantations, village or city streets. It is a constant singer, so constant, in fact, that its song is very generally overlooked. It is only when one's ears are opened that we realize how large a proportion of the daily chorus of bird-song is furnished by the Red-eye. The bird itself spends so much of his time among the leaves that unless one knows his song and follows it to its source one sees little of the singer. A male often sings for a long time on one twig, merely turning his head from side to side.

The song is made up of separate phrases of from two to four syllables, with either a rising or a falling inflection, as if the bird were carrying on a conversation. The phrases are separated by very short intervals, and vary greatly. Certain forms recur, but in no fixed order. Beginners have much difficulty in distinguishing the song of the Red-eyed from that of the Robin. This latter is a true song, an outburst of melody in which the same phrases are repeated in a definite sequence and after a certain interval. There is more power, too, in the voice. The Red-eyed's phrases are each separated by a slight interval, so that it is impossible to say when the song is over; it goes on practically all day. The songs of the Yellow-throated and the Solitary Vireo resemble that of the Red-eyed in form, but each possesses more power, and the latter greater sweetness.

[graphic]

Red-eyed Vireo

To distinguish a Red-eyed when not in song from the warblers which frequent the tree-tops, it is necessary to get a view of the pure white under parts, and to note the heavier proportions, and the more leisurely behavior. From the Warbling Vireo it may be distinguished either by the markings on the side of the head, or by the song. The red eye is visible only at very short range, when the female, for instance, is sitting in the nest and allows a very near approach.


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