One thing I’ve discovered since I began birding with my Nikon is that many of the tree-top and bare-branch birds have very subtle markings. In fact I might go so far as to say that many are down right plain. Perusing my favourite Bird Id section of the OutdoorOntario website taught me one useful tidbit for identification. Here’s how it helps me figure out which plain grey or green birds are vireos.
Birds don’t get much plainer than Warbling Vireos.
Take a Peek at the Tip of the Bill
Glenn Coady offered this advice to someone trying to identify a mysterious drab creature, “Vireos have curved, hook-tipped bills, which is part of the reason they were reclassified as being more closely allied to shrikes on the checklist, as opposed to warblers, where they were formerly positioned.”
I found this very useful information as I had never even noticed vireos had a hook at the tip of their bills.
Warbling Vireo Gets Snagged
I first went back and looked more closely at the photos I had taken of a Warbling Vireo. (Not that I knew what it was at the time I shot them. I had to ask more experienced birders.)
Sure enough, there it was, a very small, almost imperceptible hook right at the end.
Red Eyed Vireo Also Hooked
More recently on a ramble at Riverwood, I found another greenish-backed, white-fronted bird hunting through the leafy trees. Unlike the Warbling Vireo it had a fairly distinctive dark eyeline and a dark cap on top of its head. To narrow down my choices, I zoomed in on the bill.
Sure enough, there was the tiny little hook again. Thanks, Glenn!
Warbling Vireo Lives Up to Its Name
This mid-June week I re-visited Lakeside Park in Mississauga and met the Warbling Vireo again. This time I recognized it right away because of its bill and its total lack of interesting field marks. Unlike last time, it was also living up to its name. This bird wouldn’t stop singing!
In fact, I began to wonder if it might starve to death. It seemed like it barely had to time to gulp an insect between its incessant songs.
If you want to hear its rather cheerful tune, you can at AllAboutBirds. While not identical to what I heard it is reasonably close.
Red Eyed Vireo Isn’t
I’ve seen Red Eyed Vireos where you wondered briefly about demonic possession as you stared into their glowing eyeballs. The one I saw during this June mid-month visit to Riverwood Conservancy did not do justice to its name. Probably due to the lighting, or lack thereof, under the maples and broad-leaved trees, its eyes were not noticeably any colour.
The prominent eyeline and darker cap are more reliable field marks for these vireos.
Look for the Hook
So when you’re trying to decide which innocuous feathered friend you’re watching in the woods, look for a hook. If it has one check the Vireos first. You may just find your friend.
Are you hooked on (or by) vireos? Please share your experiences with a comment.