Vireo gilvuseastern warbling-vireo(Also: warbling vireo)

Geographic Range

Vireo gilvus, or warbling vireos, inhabit the Nearctic and Neotropical regions. This species breeds across nearly the entire United States, excluding the southeast region. The breeding range reaches north to include the southwest Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and the southwest corner of Manitoba. They also breed in the southern portions of the Northwest Territories, Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick. Few populations breed in Mexico but are restricted to the Sierre Madre Occidental region. Vireo gilvus is a migratory species that overwinters in Central America from Mexico to the northern edges of Nicaragua. (Gardali and Ballard, 2000)


Vireo gilvus prefers to breed in deciduous or mixed deciduous-coniferous woodlands with adequate canopy openings. Forested riversides and thickets are also potential nesting habitats. They occasionally inhabit young successional stands. They may also be found in urban parks, gardens, orchards or hedgerows. During the non-breeding season Vireo gilvus inhabits a wider range of habitats including second growth forests, plantations, oak forests, and coniferous forests. They are common in shade-grown coffee plantations which retain native canopy trees and shrubs. During migration, common stopover sites include deciduous forest, shrubby habitats, and scrub forests in the southwest. Throughout all seasons, Vireo gilvus avoids boreal or pine dominated habitats. They inhabit elevations of up to 3,000 m. (Ehrlich, et al., 1988; Gardali and Ballard, 2000; James, 1976)

  • Range elevation
    3,000 (high) m

Physical Description

Vireo gilvus is a smaller vireo, measuring 14 cm in length, 21.6 cm from wingtip to wingtip and weighing in at 12 g. They are overall olive-gray above, with a gray crown that contrasts only slightly with their olive-gray backs. Like many vireos they feature a white supercilium and gray eyestripe. The eyestripe and lores for this species are a pale gray which gives them a "blank-faced" look that distinguishes them from other, more boldly patterned vireos. The flanks and sides are a pale yellow, while the throat, breast and belly are nearly white. Beaks and legs are dark gray to black in color. This species exhibits no sexual dimorphism or distinctive juvenile plumage. (Sibley, 2000)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Average mass
    12.0 g
    0.42 oz
  • Average length
    14.0 cm
    5.51 in
  • Average wingspan
    21.6 cm
    8.50 in


Vireo gilvus is a monogamous species, but it is unknown if there is mate or site fidelity. Pair formation likely occurs during migration, as most pairs have already formed by the time they arrive on the breeding grounds. Courtship displays generally begin with males engaging females in a chase flight. Afterward, the male may give courtship calls while fanning his tail and moving his body from side to side, facing the female. Females respond with wing-quivering, and when the male approaches she will strike her bill against his. Some mate feeding has been observed during migration as well. Once pairs have formed, the two individuals will both sing courtship calls while constructing the nest together. No reports of mate defense currently exist. (Ehrlich, et al., 1988; Gardali and Ballard, 2000)

In migratory populations, most warbling vireos arrive on the breeding grounds from mid-April to Mid-May and most have already formed pairs. Nest construction begins 2 to 7 days after arrival or pair formation on the breeding grounds. Nests are built by both males and females (though more-so by females) and are typically located high in the canopy, but height can range from 1 to 37 m. Like most vireos, they form a deep, hanging cup secured in a forked branch. Construction lasts 6 to 7 days and pairs incorporate leaves, grass, bark strips, pine needles, feathers or hair into the nest. Females lay an average clutch size of 4, white eggs which are spotted with brown or black. Eggs measure 19 mm in length. Incubation lasts 12 days on average, and the young fledge after 13 to 14 days. Parents continue to feed their fledglings for at least 2 weeks post-fledge, but exact independence date is unknown. Age at reproductive maturity is unknown but is presumed to be approximately 10 months or during an individual's first spring. In locations with long breeding seasons, two broods have been reported. (Ehrlich, et al., 1988; Gardali and Ballard, 2000)

  • Breeding interval
    Warbling vireos typically breed once yearly, but may produce two broods in locations with long breeding seasons.
  • Breeding season
    Warbling vireos breed from mid-April through early August.
  • Range eggs per season
    3 to 5
  • Average time to hatching
    12 days
  • Range fledging age
    13 to 14 days
  • Range time to independence
    14 (low) days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    10 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    10 months

Vireo gilvus females select a suitable nesting site and perform most of the nest construction. Once the nest is completed and eggs have been laid, both males and females take turns incubating the clutch though females perform most of the incubation as well. After hatching, the altricial young require constant feeding and brooding provided by both parents, although females more-so than males. Parents take turns watching over the nestlings and foraging for food, making sure that one parent is tending the brood at all times. Both parents remove fecal sacs from the nest, which likely reduces risk of disease or predation. Once the hatchlings fledge, both parents continue to feed and care for the young for an additional two weeks. (Ehrlich, et al., 1988; Gardali and Ballard, 2000)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • male parental care
  • female parental care
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female


The longest-lived Vireo gilvus individual was an adult banded in California and recaptured 13 years later. Adult annual survivorship estimates range from 50 to 83%. Exact causes of mortality are unknown but may include brood parasitism by brown-headed cowbirds, nest depredation, or decline in habitat quality. (Gardali and Ballard, 2000; Gardali, et al., 2000; Ortega and Ortega, 2003)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    13 (high) years


Vireo gilvus is a long- or short- distance migratory species that can potentially travel from the southern Northwest Territories of Canada to the northern tip of Nicaragua. Some populations in the mountainous regions of Mexico remain in the region year-round. They are primarily a diurnal species that is most active at dawn and dusk, but are also nocturnal during migration. Most of the year during the non-breeding and migratory seasons, this species is social and may be found in mixed-species flocks with an average of 10 other species. During the breeding season pairs form and become solitary and territorial against any intruders. Warbling vireos are primarily an arboreal species that forages and nests high in the canopy, on the peripheral edges. (Gardali and Ballard, 2000; James, 1976)

Home Range

Territory size ranges from 1.2 to 3 hectares. Size is likely influenced by population density and habitat quality. Warbling vireos defend their territories but do not often use physical contact to deter intruders. They have been observed tolerating red-eyed vireos and yellow-throated vireos that sing within their territories. (Gardali and Ballard, 2000; James, 1976)

Communication and Perception

Like all birds, Vireo gilvus perceives its environment through visual, auditory, chemical and tactile stimuli. Vocal communications include male territorial song, courtship call, and a variety of contact, begging, and warning calls. The typical song is mnemonically described as "If I see you, I will seize you, and I'll squeeze you 'til you squirt!". Compared to other vireos, this call is undulating and more connected with an overall warbling quality. Calls are used between mates to locate each other, as well as warn of nearby predators. Pairs also use body postures to communicate during courtship. Male courtship begins with an aerial chase of the female which is followed by a stationary interaction where the male fans his tail and turns his body back and forth. The female responds with wing-quivering and will eventually peck at the male's beak when he approaches. (Gardali and Ballard, 2000)

Food Habits

Vireo gilvus is primarily an insectivore but will also consume spiders and berries in the fall and winter. They utilize a hover and glean feeding strategy, and capture nearly all of their food from peripheral leaves of trees or shrubs. Prey items include caterpillars and pupae of butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera), true bugs (Hemiptera), ladybug beetles (Coccinellidae), beetles (Coleoptera), as well as spiders (Arachnida). Non-insect items consumed include elderberries and poison oak berries. (Ehrlich, et al., 1988; Gardali and Ballard, 2000; James, 1976)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • Plant Foods
  • fruit


Currently there have been no observations of adult or nest predation, though it is known to occur. Certain bird species are heavily mobbed by Vireo gilvus and are presumed to be predators. These species include Steller’s jays, western scrub-jays, blue jays and common grackles. Western mammalian predators include red squirrels and western gray squirrels. Their dull, olive-gray coloration likely serves as camouflage in the tree canopy. (Gardali and Ballard, 2000; Gardali and Ballard, 2000)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Vireo gilvus is primarily an insectivore that likely impacts local prey populations. They are common hosts of brood parasitic brown-headed cowbirds and have not evolved any method to remove or destroy the foreign eggs. During fall and winter, these birds include berries in their diets, and may serve a small role as a local seed disperser. One individual has been reported to have have been captured with feather mites of the genus Proctophyllodes. (Ehrlich, et al., 1988; Gardali and Ballard, 2000; Ortega and Ortega, 2003)

Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Vireo gilvus is primarily an insectivore, which may serve to reduce pest populations. (Gardali and Ballard, 2000)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of warbling vireos on humans.

Conservation Status

Vireo gilvus is of least concern to the IUCN Red List as it has a large population size dispersed across a wide geographic range. As migratory birds, they are protected under the United States Migratory Bird Act. This species prefers forested habitats with significant portions of canopy openings and may thrive as a result of careful selective harvesting by the logging industry. There is a minor concern with regards to the effect of brown-headed cowbird brood parasitism. Warbling vireos have not yet evolved a method to identify, remove or destroy cowbird eggs which results in low productivity and may cause future population declines. Another concern is pesticide application, as warbling vireo populations may become locally extinct after foraging and nesting trees are sprayed. (Ehrlich, et al., 1988; Gardali and Ballard, 2000)


Rachelle Sterling (author), Special Projects, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.


Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


active at dawn and dusk


having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males


makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


lives alone


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.


living in cities and large towns, landscapes dominated by human structures and activity.


uses sight to communicate


Ehrlich, P., D. Dobkin, D. Wheye. 1988. The Birder's Handbook: A Field Guide to the Natural History of North American Birds. New York, New York: Simon and Schuster.

Gardali, T., G. Ballard. 2000. "The Birds of North America Online" (On-line). Vireo gilvus. Accessed March 28, 2011 at doi:10.2173/bna.551.

Gardali, T., G. Ballard, N. Nur, G. Geupel. 2000. Demography of a declining population of warbling vireos in coastal California. The Condor, 102: 601-609. Accessed March 29, 2011 at

James, R. 1976. Foraging Behavior and Habitat Selection of Three Species of Vireos in Southern Ontario. The Wilson Bulletin, 88/1: 62-75.

Ortega, C., J. Ortega. 2003. Brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater) parasitism on warbling vireos (Vireo gilvus) in southwest Colorado. The Auk, 120/3: 759-764. Accessed March 29, 2011 at

Sibley, D. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc..