White-Eyed Vireo

Vireo griseus

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Photo of a white-eyed vireo perched on a small branch
The white-eyed vireo’s white irises would seem its most distinctive feature, but it’s actually better known for its distinctive, loud, vociferous song.
Jim Rathert
Family

Vireonidae (vireos) in the order Passeriformes

Description

Adult upperparts are grayish olive with two white wing bars. Visible only at close range, the iris of the eye is whitish with a dark pupil. Young birds have dark eyes. The lore and eye ring are yellow. Underparts are whitish with yellowish sides and flanks. The song is distinctive and loud; it begins and ends with a loud chick, and the middle is peer wheeo. Frequently the song is described as "pic, pic up the beeeer check" or "sit, sit-behind-a-white-oak, sit." Call is a descending veeer. They will mimic other nearby species in their song.

Similar species: Be sure to check the bill on any slowly foraging, pale or drab-colored warblerlike bird, for it may be a vireo. The bill of a vireo is relatively thick, until the tip, and it has a small hook that can be seen from below. Warblers' bills are narrow and taper to a sharp point.

Size

Length: 5 inches.

White-Eyed_Vireo_face_5-16-17.jpg

Photo of a white-eyed vireo perched on a small branch
White-Eyed Vireo
Adult white-eyed vireos have white irises, and the lore and eye ring are yellow. Like other vireos, the bill is slightly hooked.

White-Eyed_Vireo_underparts_5-16-17.jpg

Photo of a white-eyed vireo perched on a small branch
White-Eyed Vireo
The underparts of a white-eyed vireo are whitish, with yellowish sides and flanks.

White-Eyed_Vireo_upperparts_5-16-17.jpg

Photo of a white-eyed vireo perched on a branch
White-Eyed Vireo
The upperparts of white-eyed vireos are grayish olive with two white wing bars.

White-Eyed_Vireo_foraging_5-16-17.jpg

Photo of a white-eyed vireo perched on a small branch
White-Eyed Vireo
White-eyed vireos forage for insects by slowly hopping from branch to branch in low shrubs and thickets, peering, then pecking at prey items.

White-Eyed_Vireo_singing_5-16-17.jpg

Photo of a white-eyed vireo perched on a small branch
White-Eyed Vireo
The white-eyed vireo is best known for its loud, distinctive song: "pic, pic-up-the-beeeer check" or "sit, sit-behind-a-white-oak, sit."

White-Eyed_Vireo_politician_5-16-17.jpg

Photo of a white-eyed vireo perched on a small branch
White-Eyed Vireo
Like other vireos, the white-eyed forages slowly and deliberately, hopping and inspecting branches and leaves for insects.
Habitat and conservation

Lives in low shrubs and thickets, old pastures and fields, the edges of woodlands, and brushy places along streams.

Foods

White-eyed vireos forage for insects by slowly hopping from branch to branch in low shrubs and thickets, peering, then pecking at prey items. They also eat spiders, berries, and small lizards.

Distribution in Missouri

Statewide, but more common in southern Missouri.

Status

As a summer resident, common in southern Missouri, rare in the north. Accidental winter visitor in southeastern Missouri. This bird’s old nickname, “the politician,” apparently arose from its habit of using bits of newspaper in its nest — although its jabbering, severe song no doubt contributed to the nickname’s popularity.

Life cycle

Present in Missouri April through early October, with numbers highest May through early September. Suspended cup nests are built in the fork of a small, low branch. They are built of leaves and a variety of other plant materials bound together with spider and insect silk. The outside is camouflaged with moss, leaves, and lichens. Clutches comprise 3–5 eggs, which are incubated 13–15 days. After hatching, the young leave the nest after 9–11 days. Winter range includes the Gulf Coast states, into Central America, and Cuba. A white-eyed vireo can live to be at least 10 years old.

Human connections

The white-eyed vireo’s song has inspired many adjectives: snappy, explosive, unvireolike, pert, abusive, severe, dictatorial, tart, sarcastic, contemptuous — an old nickname for this bird is “the politician” — and people have created many fun phrases to match it: “Quick, give me a raincheck”; “Whip Tom Kelly,” “Who are YOU, now?” and “Get out! Beat it!” But we like the ones we provide in the description, above.

Ecosystem connections

Young white-eyed vireos have gray or brown irises. Many bird species have irises that change color as they mature. This may have adaptive value, in that it helps birds gauge each other’s ages — useful for choosing an older, more experienced mate, for example.