Merlin

Blue-headed Vireo Life History

Habitat

Habitat Forests

Blue-headed Vireos occupy a great variety of forest types across their broad breeding range. In the north, they use coniferous forests of pine, spruce, hemlock, or fir, and these habitats have no other nesting species of vireo. In such areas, undergrowth includes willow and alder. Blue-headed Vireos also use birch, poplar, and maple stands in northern forests. In Appalachia, they inhabit coniferous forests as well as deciduous woodlands with beech, oak, hickory, and maple. For nesting, they use mature forests with closed canopy and healthy understory. Migrants and wintering birds frequent many types of forest, including suburban parks, coastal swamps, coffee plantations, rainforest, and cloud forest. In all such settings, vine tangles, forest edges with extensive scrubby vegetation, and complex understory appear to be attractive to Blue-headed Vireos.

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Food

Food Insects

Blue-headed Vireos consume mostly insects, including larvae. They also take spiders, snails, and small fruits. Insect prey includes moths, butterflies, stinkbugs, ladybird beetles, wood borers, click beetles, weevils, bees, ants, dragonflies, stoneflies, grasshoppers, and crickets. They also eat fruits of sumac, wild grape, dogwood, elder, and wax myrtle. Blue-headed Vireos hunt insects along live branches and to a lesser extent in foliage. They take prey largely from the interior of the tree, much less often at the tips of branches. They search the environment slowly and carefully, then hop or fly to catch prey.

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Nesting

Nest Placement

Nest Tree

Males appear to select the nest site and sing from it, but the female must accept it for nest construction to commence. The nest is usually placed about 6–15 feet up in a fork of a tree branch (often a sapling) or shrub. Northern birds tend to use conifers, especially hemlock, fir, and spruce, while those from Virginia southward favor deciduous saplings and shrubs, especially birch, oak, maple, hickory, magnolia, beech, rhododendron, hazel, laurel, alder, and chokecherry.

Nest Description

The pair builds the nest together, the male taking on most of the early work in forming the foundation, the female completing the nest lining. The male wraps the supporting materials completely around the fork, forming them with his body and feet into the nest site. The suspended cup is substantial, held together with spiderweb and composed of bark strips, lichens, grasses, plant down and fibers, twigs, moss, leaves, fur, and feathers. The female completes the lining with grasses, rootlets, vines, and pine needles. The nest measures about 3 inches across and 6.75 inches tall, with the interior diameter 2 inches and depth 1.6 inches.

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size:3-5 eggs
Number of Broods:1 brood
Egg Length:0.7-0.9 in (1.7-2.2 cm)
Egg Width:0.5-0.6 in (1.3-1.6 cm)
Incubation Period:13-15 days
Nestling Period:12-13 days
Egg Description:

Creamy white with sparse dark spots around larger end.

Condition at Hatching:

Helpless with tufts of down.

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Behavior

Behavior Foliage Gleaner

Most behaviors of Blue-headed Vireo seem typical of other large vireos. They feed by methodically searching vegetation for insects, often frustratingly obscured from view. Newly paired Blue-headed Vireos, however, participate in an ebullient display. When the female crouches, to indicate receptivity, the male sings, wings aquiver, and hops or flies toward her. He then stiffens his body upward, drawing in his head, and erects the yellowish feathers of his sides and his white spectacles. As he sings in this improbable position, he sways to and fro, rhythmically and rapidly, all the while marching toward the female. When males compete over a territory boundary, they usually countersing (each male singing in turn to resolve the dispute. But conflicts at close quarters do occur, and these involve ruffling of feathers, threat posture (the body held horizontally, males facing one another), and aerial chases, along with rapid singing and scolding. Females also chase male and female intruders in the territory. Wintering birds often sing, especially late in the winter, but there is no evidence that they are territorial. During migration and on wintering grounds, Blue-headed Vireos sometimes join mixed-species flocks when foraging. When agitated by a predator, and especially when other birds are mobbing (surrounding and scolding) a raptor, owl, or snake, their loud, raspy alarm call can be audible at some distance.

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Conservation

Conservation Low Concern

Blue-headed Vireo populations have roughly doubled since 1970, according to estimates by Partners in Flight. The estimated global breeding population is 13 million individuals. Blue-headed Vireos rate a 7 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating the species is of low conservation concern. Although the species is still numerous, it is sensitive to habitat changes, including partial cutting of woodlands, which can hamper nesting success.

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Backyard Tips

Blue-headed Vireos don’t come to feeders, but leaving thickets, hedgerows, and vegetation tangles along forest edges (if you have them) will improve chances to see many migrating birds.

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Credits

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2015.2. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2015.

Morton, Eugene S. and Ross D. James. (2014). Blue-headed Vireo (Vireo solitarius), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Partners in Flight (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2017). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2015. Version 2.07.2017. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, USA.

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