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Help develop a Bird ID tool!

Red-eyed Vireo

Vireo olivaceus ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: VIREONIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

A tireless songster, the Red-eyed Vireo is one of the most common summer residents of Eastern forests. These neat, olive-green and white songbirds have a crisp head pattern of gray, black, and white. Their brief but incessant songs—sometimes more than 20,000 per day by a single male—contribute to the characteristic sound of an Eastern forest in summer. When fall arrives, they head for the Amazon basin, fueled by a summer of plucking caterpillars from leaves in the treetops.

ML Essential Set
Be a Better Birder Tutorial 4

Keys to identification Help

Warblerlike
Warblerlike
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Red-eyed Vireos are large, chunky vireos with a long, angular head, thick neck, and a strong, long bill with a small but noticeable hook at the tip. The body is stocky and the tail fairly short.

  • Color Pattern

    Red-eyed Vireos are olive-green above and clean white below with a strong head pattern: a gray crown and white eyebrow stripe bordered above and below by blackish lines. The flanks and under the tail have a green-yellow wash. Adults have red eyes that appear dark from a distance; immatures have dark eyes.

  • Behavior

    They forage in deciduous canopies where they can be difficult to find among the green leaves. They move slowly and methodically, carefully scanning leaves above and below for their favored caterpillar prey. However, their habit of near-incessant singing in summer, even in the heat of midafternoon, helps draw attention to them.

  • Habitat

    Large expanses of deciduous forest, particularly deciduous trees with large leaves (such as maples), typify Red-eyed Vireo habitat during the breeding season. On migration, look for them in nearly any type of forest, woodland, or woodlot (particularly in deciduous stands). It is often the commonest of vireo migrants.

Range Map Help

Red-eyed Vireo Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  •  

    Red-eyed Vireo

     
    • Small, stocky olive-green songbird with white belly
    • Blue-gray cap and white eyebrow separated by dark stripe
    • Thin, dark line through eye
    • Dark red eye visible in good light
    • © Jim McCree, Bangor, Maine, May 2012
  •  

    Red-eyed Vireo

     
    • Small, stocky olive-green songbird with white belly
    • Short, stubby bill with hook at tip
    • Gray cap bordered by dark stripe
    • White eyebrow with thin, dark stripe through eye
    • © Bill Thompson, Hawley Bog, Massachusetts, September 2011
  •  

    Red-eyed Vireo

     
    • Small, stocky songbird with stubby, hooked bill
    • Olive-green back and yellow undertail
    • Slaty blue-gray cap with dark border separating white eyebrow
    • Thin dark stripe through eye
    • © JasonbgNH, New Hampshire, August 2011
  •  

    Red-eyed Vireo

     
    • Stocky, compact songbird
    • Bright olive-green back and wings with contrasting white belly
    • Pale yellow undertail
    • Blue/gray cap separated from white eyebrow by dark stripe
    • © Christian Hunold, John Heinz NWR, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, October 2010

Similar Species

  •  

    Warbling Vireo

     
    • Shorter bill and rounder head than Red-eyed Vireo
    • Less obvious facial pattern with little contrast
    • Pale gray above instead of olive-green
    • © Alberto Lopez, Sapsucker Woods, Ithaca, New York, May 2012
  • Female/juvenile

    Tennessee Warbler

    Female/juvenile
    • Smaller and more slender than Red-eyed Vireo
    • Thin, sharply-pointed bill with no hook at tip
    • Moves more actively and rapidly than Red-eyed Vireo
    • © Charles McDonald, August 2013
  •  

    Philadelphia Vireo

     
    • Smaller/stubbier bill than Red-eyed Vireo
    • Lemon-yellow under-parts, particularly on throat/breast (where Red-eyed shows white)
    • © Cameron Rognan, Ithaca, New York, September 2008

Similar Species

Warbling Vireo has a less angular shape than Red-eyed Vireo, with a rounder head and shorter bill. It also has a much less striking head pattern—the soft gray crown doesn't contrast strongly with the off-white eyebrow stripe, and it doesn't have the Red-eyed Vireo’s blackish head stripes. Warbling Vireo also has gray, not green, upperparts and often lacks much yellow coloration below. Philadelphia Vireo is also smaller and less angular than Red-eyed Vireo with a shorter bill, and it is usually much yellower below. Even Philadelphias that don’t show much yellow still have the strongest color on the breast, where Red-eyed is always white. Black-whiskered Vireos live in mangroves of southern Florida. They are very similar to Red-eyed Vireo, but the bill is even larger, and it has a strong lateral throat stripe that Red-eyed lacks. Tennessee Warbler has a similar color pattern but is smaller and slimmer, with a short, thin, pointed bill. Tennessee Warblers move more quickly and incessantly than Red-eyed Vireos.

Find This Bird

Red-eyed Vireos are very common in Eastern forests during summer. They can be hard to see in the treetops, particularly after the trees leaf out, but this is one bird that really highlights the value of learning bird songs. Their short, rising-and-falling song is fairly easy to recognize and the birds give it almost all day long, including during the mid-afternoon doldrums when few other species are singing. Learning this song helps in two ways: it makes it easier to find the species, and it gives you a familiar song against which to compare other songs and perhaps find additional species. On migration, look for the species in nearly any patch of trees. On the species’ South American winter range, it retains its fondness for forest canopy and trees with large leaves.