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Warbling Vireo


IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

The rich song of the Warbling Vireo is a common sound in many parts of central and northern North America during summer. It’s a great bird to learn by ear, because its fast, rollicking song is its most distinctive feature. Otherwise, Warbling Vireos are fairly plain birds with gray-olive upperparts and white underparts washed with faint yellow. They have a mild face pattern with a whitish stripe over the eye. They stay high in deciduous treetops, where they move methodically among the leaves hunting for caterpillars.

Keys to identification Help

Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Warbling Vireos are small, chunky songbirds with thick, straight, slightly hooked bills. They are medium-sized for vireos, with a fairly round head and medium-length bill and tail.

  • Color Pattern

    Warbling Vireos are gray-olive above and whitish below, washed on the sides and vent with yellow. They have a dark line through the eye and a white line over the eye. The lores (the area between the eye and bill) are white in most individuals. Typically, the brightest plumage on Warbling Vireos is on vent or flanks. Worn midsummer birds can be nearly entirely gray above and whitish below.

  • Behavior

    Warbling Vireos forage sluggishly, intently peering at leaf surfaces from a single perch before pouncing or moving on. They eat mostly caterpillars. They give their loud, rollicking, finch-like song frequently on summer territories.

  • Habitat

    Deciduous forest is the favored habitat of Warbling Vireos throughout the year, though they also use some mixed coniferous and deciduous habitats. Even on migration they typically occur in areas with taller trees.

Range Map Help

Warbling Vireo Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp


    Warbling Vireo

    • Small, plain vireo
    • Pale off-white lores and eyebrow
    • Dull gray upper-parts with solid, unmarked wings
    • © Daniel Behm, May 2012

    Warbling Vireo

    • Compact and small-billed
    • Plain and pale on face
    • Faint buffy-yellow on flanks and sides of breast
    • © Sharon Watson, North Dakota, August 2011

    Warbling Vireo

    • Stocky, small-billed vireo
    • Pale eyebrows and lores
    • Plain, dull gray upper-parts
    • © Alberto Lopez, Sapsucker Woods, Ithaca, New York, May 2012

Similar Species

Similar Species

Philadelphia Vireos are slightly smaller, with a rounder head and shorter tail than Warbling Vireos. Philadelphia Vireos also typically have much brighter yellow underparts that are always brightest on the throat and breast, whereas Warbling Vireos tend to be brighter on the flanks or vent. Philadelphia Vireos also have a distinct line through the eye toward the bill (the lores), giving the bird a fiercer expression. This eyeline widens immediately in front of and behind the eye, giving Philadelphias the impression of having larger eyes than Warbling Vireos. Red-eyed Vireos are both larger and have a large, angular head and large bill. They also have a bright white superciliary that contrasts strongly with a wide eyeline and thin, blackish lateral borders of the crown. Red-eyed Vireos are brighter green on the back than Warbling Vireos. Bell’s Vireos are smaller than Warbling Vireos, with a rounder head and a longer tail. Bell’s Vireos also show at least one and usually two pale wingbars. Warblers such as Tennessee Warblers are more slender, with daintier, more pointed bills than Warbling Vireos, and they move from perch to perch much more quickly and restlessly.

Regional Differences

Western birds tend to be a bit drabber than eastern birds, though plumage color varies more with season than from east to west. Western birds also have slightly longer bills, but this difference is only rarely useable in the field. The two forms have similar, but diagnosably different songs, western birds having higher-pitched, less “sing-songy,” less caroling, and slightly longer songs than those of eastern birds. The two forms meet near the western edge of the Great Plains, and both forms breed in, at least, Colorado.

Find This Bird

In the eastern part of their breeding range, you can likely find Warbling Vireos in almost any sizable deciduous woodland. They are fairly drab and tend to stay high in trees, so find them by listening for their loud, caroling song. Because of their habitually slow foraging speed, you can often track down the singer fairly easily. In the West, particularly in mountains where coniferous trees are common, Warbling Vireos are harder to find. Look for them in aspen forests and in woodland (often cottonwood) along streams, where they are a common breeder. Again, you will find them most readily by listening for their distinctive song.



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