September’s Bird of the Month: Warbling Vireo

By Douglas “Birdman” Gray

I’ve seen some great birds lately. Some distinctive ones. Some rare ones. Some colorful ones. Some with very lovely songs. But the bird that impressed me most over the last month is, for the most part, none of those things.

This month’s featured bird is the impressive (for me anyway) Warbling Vireo.

Let’s face it; it’s been a long hot summer. In Indiana, all sorts of heat-related records have been set. But one thing I noticed, even while birding at heat indices well above 100 degrees, Warbling Vireos could be counted on to sing.

Walking through almost any wooded area in Indiana (or any wooded area in the United States for that matter) you will likely hear the Warbling Vireo singing its pleasant song. (The mnemonic of “If I see you, I will seize you, and I’ll squeeze you till you squirt!” is very useful in identifying and remembering this bird’s song.)

While easily heard, the Warbling Vireo can be difficult to spot. They tend to perch themselves high in treetops. When they are seen, this common bird is often described as “nondescript”. I’ve heard it said, amongst birders, “If it’s in a tree and it has a totally nondescript plumage, then it must be a Warbling Vireo.”
This vireo is indeed a rather drab bird. It has a grayish/olive-gray back, a somewhat whitish breast that sometimes has a yellowish wash, an almost indiscernible dull white stripe over the eyes, and bluish/grayish legs. No wingbars. No tail spots. No eye ring.

OK………I know the Warbling Vireo is rather plain and isn’t impressive to look at. But while most other birds are hunkered down and shunning the midday sun, in the “dog days of summer”, this bird will be singing. It’s as if this bird is saying, “I know it’s hot, but I’m glad. I know it’s hot, but I’m grateful. Things could be better, but I’m gonna sing.” That impresses me!

I think humans could learn a thing or two by observing the impressive Warbling Vireo.

Douglas “Birdman” Gray has been birding almost all of his life. He grew up on a family farm near Clarksville, Tennessee, where they grew crops ranging from apricots to wheat, and most things in between. They also raised chickens, guineas, pigs, horses, and a cow named…….Apples. Doug’s grandfather identified the birds they would see daily on the farm.

Doug now resides in Indianapolis and works in Parenteral Engineering with Eli Lilly and Company. Most of his current birding takes place in Indiana, with a concentration on Central Indiana, where he leads bird walks for “Backyard Birds”. Doug can be reached at 317-255-7333.

6 Thoughts on “September’s Bird of the Month: Warbling Vireo”

  • The warbling vireo! I discovered one of these neat little birds in a weeping willow in my grandmother’s Seattle backyard earlier this spring and had a fun time identifying it. Later that month we heard one singing, as expected, right in the middle of the day at a local wetland.

    I was quite charmed by this bird and think it’s great you appreciate them, too. It’s a mistake to overlook a bird (or any organism) just because it is perceived as visually ‘plain’ or ‘dull’. They’re all worthy of our consideration and admiration. Thanks for featuring the warbling vireo!

  • Thanks for the wonderful essay, Doug!

    Warbling Vireo holds a special place in my heart — and in my sleep patterns! =)
    Several years ago I was working as a bird bander for Black Swamp Bird Observatory and making an hour and a half commute to get to the research station. By the end of the day I’d be so wiped out that I’d go to my favorite wildlife area, park my car under a big beautiful cottonwood tree and nap for a few minutes before driving home.

    Warbling Vireos were always in the tree singing their beautiful, lilting, soothing song and it would put me right to sleep! Now, when I hear Warbling Vireos sing, I start to yawn and feel sleepy!

    Thanks for the great story about one of my favorite birds and most effective natural sleep aids! =)


    Kimberly Kaufman

    • Wow Kim…thanks for the idea. Instead of going to the Dr for a Lunesta script…I’ll just make a Warbling Vireo CD…lol.

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