Red-eyed Vireo, Vireo olivaceus

The Red-eyed Vireo is a very common Eastern songbird and has the reputation for being the most persistent of singers.  This inconspicuous bird of the forest canopy will sing its series of short, variable phrases from dawn until dusk.

A common breeding bird across the state, the Red-eyed Vireo can be found in Tennessee from mid-April until late September.  Rangewide it breeds across most of Canada and the eastern United States and migrates to northern South America and the Amazon basin for the winter.

Description: This small, drab songbird is olive-green above and white below, with a pale yellow wash on the sides of the breast.  It has a bluish-gray crown, and a white eyebrow with a black stripe through the eye.  Adult eyes are dark red, and immature birds during their first fall have brown eyes. The male and female are alike in plumage.

Length: 6"
Wingspan: 10" 
Weight: 0.6 oz

Voice: The song is a continuous series of two or three note phrases similar to Here I am, where are youup here, see me. Red-eyed Vireos also give a catbird-like mew.

Similar Species:

  • Philadelphia and Warbling Vireos have similar plumage patterns, but unlike the Red-eyed Vireo, these species lack a black edge above the white eyebrow line making the head appear much less strongly patterned. In addition, the Philadelphia Vireo typically has a yellow wash to the underparts, and the back of the Warbling Vireo is more gray than olive.

Habitat: Breeds in deciduous and mixed deciduous forests, more abundant in forest interior. Also in urban areas and parks with large trees.

Diet: Insects, especially caterpillars, found in the tree canopy. Also, small fruits especially on tropical wintering grounds.

Nesting and reproduction: Males arrive first on the breeding grounds and pairs form shortly after the arrival of the females.

Clutch Size: Usually 4 eggs, with a range of 3 to 5.

Incubation: The female incubates the eggs for 11 to 14 days.

Fledging: The female does most of the feeding and the young leave the nest after 10 to 12 days.

Nest: The female builds the open cup-nest, which is suspended from a forked tree branch. The nest is made of twigs, bark strips, grasses, pine needles, and lichen, and held together with spider web. The inner lining of the nest is made of grasses, plant fibers, and hair. Nest heights range from 5 to 35 feet above the ground.

Status in Tennessee: The Red-eyed Vireo is one of the most common and widespread forest dwelling species in the state. It is a Neotropical migrant, breeding in deciduous and mixed forests statewide and wintering in South America. It can be found in the state from mid-April through September and October. The population appears be increasing in Tennessee.

Dynamic map of Red-eyed Vireo eBird observations in Tennessee

Fun Facts:

  • During the breeding season, Red-eyed Vireos primarily eat insects. During the winter, they travel in flocks with South American residents and other migrants, and eat fruit almost exclusively.
  • Some ornithologists believe that a non-migratory population of Red-eyed Vireos living in South America may be a separate species.
  • Red-eyed Vireos are common hosts to the Brown-headed Cowbird, which lays its eggs in the vireo's nest.
  • The oldest known Red-eyed Vireo in the wild was 10 years 2 months old.

Obsolete English Names: red-eyed greenlet, yellow-green greenlet

Best places to see in Tennessee: They can be found in large deciduous and mixed deciduous forests across the state.