Wednesday, March 26, 2008

I Am Green

Along with the arrival of warblers, another group of dainty birds, though not as colorful as the warblers, will be filling the trees and shrubs in your yards this spring.

Spending their lives among green foliage, vireos wear camouflaged colors . . . olive, olive-green, whitish, buffy or yellowish hues and soft dark grays. Their bills are more curved than the warblers and have a slight hook. The Latin word "vireo" means I am green.

The three species that we are most likely to see in this area are the white-eyed, red-eyed and yellow-throated. The solitary (blue-headed) vireo is a mountain summer resident, nesting occasionally in the piedmont and, rarely, as far south as Lake Thurmond. It is a common migrant through the area, while the red-eyed and yellow-throated are common nesters in the Central Savannah River Area.

Vireos are truly our friends. Watch one search for his dinner. He slowly, deliberately and methodically searches each leaf, above and below it, whereas the excitable, skittish warblers hurry from branch to branch without combing the leaves of harmful insects.

Another way to know you have a vireo in your glasses is to learn their songs. The red-eyed is perhaps the best known vireo in the eastern United States. He wears a gray cap edged in black that sits on his head just above his white eyebrows. His coat is dull olive. It is accented by the white shirt.

There are some birders who think his song is rather tiresome, "you see it-you know it-do you hear me-up here, see me." All through the long, hot summer days, his wearisome monologue, repeated over and over again, fills the humid air. But learn it, then compare the other vireo song's to the red-eyed's.

The yellow-throated is the beauty of the vireo clan with its brilliant yellow breast, its olive green back and its double white wing bars. When you hear it you know it's a vireo because it has touches of the red-eyed's song, but it is more mellow. One song says to me, "e-ay-ee-eight" with a short pause, then repeated. The yellow-throated nests here and is well known by birders in our area.

Another well known vireo of the area is the white-eyed. He wears a brighter olive-green coat than his cousins. His white shirt is washed in yellow on the sides. The two yellowish-white bars on his wings and white throat identify him from a distance. His white eyes are ringed in yellow. This vivacious little vireo wants his own song so he moves away from the typical vireo song. He makes up his own song in chips, chucks and mews which sound like, "chick'-a-per-weeoo. Chick' or chick'-ticha, wheeys, chick!"

The three above described vireos are the most commonly seen in this area. They come in and stay to nest. Three others, the warbling, Philadelphia and solitary vireos spend a few days with us during migration, then move on northward.

If you're not looking for a vireo you might never see one, so inconspicuous are they among the green foliage.