Living Bird Magazine
Bell's VireoVireo bellii
- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Vireonidae
A tireless little bird of thickets and thorn scrub, the Bell’s Vireo nests from the Midwest to the Southwest and into northern Mexico. Though plain in plumage, males sing so energetically and distinctively that overlooking them during the breeding season is difficult. Nevertheless, with the loss of their preferred habitats across the continent, the species has become scarce in many places where it was once common.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Look for Bell’s Vireos in shrubby, scrubby habitats such as young forests, stands of dense brush on the prairies, verdant arroyos, and mesquite woods. On an early summer morning, listen for the male’s frequent, rollicking song, and coax the sprite into sight with a little pishing, if necessary. The plain plumage can be confusing in its similarity to warblers, but watch for this bird’s frequent “joystick” tail movements.
- Vireo de Bell (Spanish)
- Viréo de Bell (French)
Letting a corner of your yard become overgrown—with hedgerows, brambles, or brush piles—is a great way to attract all sorts of songbirds, both year-round residents and regular migrants. Bell’s Vireos would be most likely to appear in just such a messy-looking spot.
- Cool Facts
- John James Audubon was the first naturalist to notice and formally describe Bell’s Vireo, during his 1843 exploration of the Missouri River. He called it “the greenlet” and named it for his friend, John Graham Bell, a taxidermist from Tappan, New York, who accompanied him on the expedition. (Bell’s Sparrow is also named in his honor.) Bell taught the young Theodore Roosevelt how to prepare specimens of birds and mammals.
A pair of Bell's Vireos sometimes forage together during the breeding season, moving upward through branches in a spiral, gleaning insects from the vegetation.
There is no reported observation of a Bell's Vireo drinking water. It may be able to obtain all of the water that it needs from its food.
The oldest recorded Bell's Vireo was a Least Bell’s Vireo that was at least 9 years, 1 month old, when it was recaptured and re-released during a banding operation in California in 2008.