Plumbeous Vireo

The Plumbeous Vireo is a Matt Monochrome Songbird. These birds sing a very complex and pleasing blurry song in the dry pine forests of the interior West, Great Basin, and Mexico. These birds can be found in the beautiful canyons and mountains of these regions too.

About Plumbeous Vireos

Plumbeous Vireos get their name from ‘Plumbum’, the scientific name for Lead because of their appearance. These birds have a very uniform and matt monochromatic tone with a solid gray above and a light gray to white belly.

These birds were earlier clubbed together with two other species of Vireos: Cassin’s Vireos and Blue-headed Vireos until the year 1997. Plumbeous Vireos are the most uniformly gray among these species as the other two have tones of yellow and green. They also sing a song slower than the Cassin’s and Blue-headed Vireos.

Plumbeous Vireos, Gray Vireos, and Cassin’s Vireos have some of their ranges overlapping and live very closely, minutely sharing foraging and nesting grounds in California. However, despite the proximity, there have never been any cases of Cassin’s and Plumbeous hybridization. Aren’t these tiny monochromatic birds pretty interesting? Let’s learn more about them here!

● Plumbeous Vireo Photos, Color Pattern, Song
● Plumbeous Vireo Size, Eating behavior, Habitat
● Plumbeous Vireo Range and Migration, Nesting


Plumbeous Vireo Color Pattern

The color pattern of Plumbeous Vireos is pretty uniform and even. These birds have a pure matt monochromatic color scheme on the grayscale. The underparts of these birds are a rich gray color similar to lead which is why they are named “Plumbeous” Vireo. The word Plumbeous is derived from the Latin word Plumbeus which means leaden. This in turn is taken from Plumbum, which means Lead.

The color pattern of the Plumbeous Vireos is very different from the color of Cassin’s and Blue-headed Vireos as they have some mixed tones of blue and yellow. These birds are rich gray above and in the underparts with a start white belly. They also have white eye-rings that look like spectacles.

Description and Identification

Plumbeous Vireos are small and gray songbirds. These appear matt monochromatic in color and have rich gray above and underparts with a contrasting white belly and bold spectacles that make them distinguishable from most other Vireos.

Compared to the most similar species that in fact were once clubbed together with them, Plumbeous Vireos are pretty well-distinguishable. These birds are chunkier when compared to Cassin’s Vireos. If compared to the Blue-headed Vireos, these birds are more uniformly grey. And, the most similar, Gray Vireos are different because of the lack of the prominent bold spectacles.

Adult Plumbeous Vireos tend to have darker colors and also more prominent spectacles around their eyes than the Juveniles. These birds move methodically along the branches and are found to be joining mixed-breed flocks during the non-breeding seasons. They are found abundantly in dry coniferous and mixed deciduous forests in the higher elevations of southwest North America.

Plumbeous Vireo Song

Plumbeous Vireos are small songbirds. They sing a very complex, pleasant, and burry song. This song is usually slower than the songs of similar species, Cassin’s and Blue-headed Vireos.

The song of Plumbeous Vireos has three phrases. During the breeding season, the male birds sing a burry song of ascending and descending phrases that sounds something like, “chreech-richi-roo”, but with many variations between the phrases. Although this song is almost identical to the song is Cassin’s Vireos, it has a slower pace and is a bit hoarse like a Yellow-throated Vireo. The song of Cassin’s Vireos has a starting phrase that is more hurried and burry.

During the nonbreeding seasons, the calls of Plumbeous Vireos are mostly Alarm calls. These calls are harsh, raspy, and almost grating, and sound like “cha-cha-cha-cha” with varying durations and intensities.

Plumbeous Vireo Size

Plumbeous Vireos are small birds when it comes to categorizing them on the basis of their size. These birds are fairly chunky and short. These birds measure around 4.7-5.5 in (12-14 cm) in length and weigh somewhere around 0.4-0.7 oz (12-20 g) only. Relatively, Plumbeous Vireos are larger than Red-breasted Nuthatches and smaller than Red-eyed Vireos.

Plumbeous Vireo Behavior

The male Plumbeous Vireos reach the breeding grounds earlier than the females to establish territories for the breeding season. The territory establishment mainly includes singing from prominent perches in trees around the territories. These territories can be somewhere between 1.5 to 5 acres. Sometimes, the male birds reuse territories from the earlier breeding seasons.

After the females reach the breeding grounds into already established territories, male birds attract them through displays similar to the other species of Vireos from the same genus, Cassin’s and Blue-headed Vireos. The courtship displays include calling softly, swaying side to side while fluffing up body feathers, and fanning the tail with slightly open wings. However, unlike other Vireos, male Plumbeous Vireos do not chase the females.

Plumbeous Vireos appear to be monogamous. Within just a day of pair formations, the birds may start building nests. Males drive out rival males from their territories through threat displays that resemble the courtship displays, chattering calls, and aerial chases.

The pairs of Plumbeous Vireos split the duties of incubation and chick-rearing. Sometimes, the males feed the incubating females. The male birds also defend the nest and the young ones most of the time. After the young ones leave the nest, the family groups forage together for some time before joining mixed-species flocks of foraging songbirds during nonbreeding seasons.

Plumbeous Vireo Diet

Plumbeous Vireos are insectivores and have a main diet of insects like true bugs, caterpillars, and beetles. Other insects in the diet of these birds include adult and larvae of moths, butterflies, stinkbugs, bees, wasps, flies, treehoppers, leafhoppers, scale insects, spiders, and cicadas. However, they also eat some fruits mainly berries.
Especially during winters, when there is a scarcity of insects, these birds tend to shift to a diet of wild berries.

Plumbeous Vireos usually forage slowly, moving by hops and slow flights between trees and shrubs just like other Vireos. They simultaneously inspect the surfaces of leaves and twigs for insects as a part of foraging. Sometimes, these birds also peek into clusters of pine needles and the cracks between the bark of trees. These birds are also found catching insects in flight and doing hover-gleaning sometimes.

Plumbeous Vireos pounce their prey with their slightly hooked bills. They may swallow some of the small prey whole but they pounce and dismember the bigger prey to soften them before eating. These birds are mostly seen foraging in coniferous vegetation and never in deciduous vegetation with the exception of oak trees.

Plumbeous Vireo Habitat

Plumbeous Vireos mostly live in the coniferous and mixed deciduous woodlands of western North America at an elevation of 3000 to 8200 feet from the sea levels. However, in Mexico, the elevations can go up to 10000 feet. In the Great Basin, these birds mostly nest in deciduous trees.

The breeding areas of these birds include vegetation like, ponderosa pine, Pinyon pine, Douglas-fir, quaking aspen, Gamble oak, Silver leaf oak, and Narrow-leaf cottonwood. Others include the black cottonwood, water birch, box elder, chokecherry, mountain mahogany, juniper, ash, willow, maple, and sycamore.

Often, Plumbeous Vireos are also found along the sides and the bottom of canyons. Migrant birds mostly take the mountain habitats while also traveling along streams, drainage, and desert wash with trees like cottonwoods, willows, mesquite, or acacia.

In Mexico, Plumbeous Vireos tend to nest in sea-level mangrove forests, lowland rainforest, and thorn forest up through virtually all vegetated habitats to pine-oak forests near 10,000 feet elevations.

Range and Migration

The range of the Plumbeous Vireos includes the higher elevations of western North America, the Great Basin, and Mexico.

The birds migrate alongside streams, drainages, and desert washes and use mountain habitats. The migration starts early in spring and late in fall. A small number of birds have been observed to winter in the southwest.

During reverse migration, the male birds reach breeding ground earlier than the female birds for the purpose of territory establishment.

Plumbeous Vireo Lifecycle

Plumbeous Vireos have a life span of around 5-6 years in the wild. The juveniles mature and start breeding at the age of 1. The male and the female bird in the pairs start building a nest together after just a day or two of forming the pair. The female bird lays around 3-5 eggs that are creamy white in color with dark brown spots on the larger ends. The incubation period is 12-14 days and both the male and female birds split the incubation duties. Sometimes, the male feeds the female while incubating the eggs. The hatchlings are born naked and pink with their eyes closed and are fed by both parents. In some areas, nests can get parasitized by Cowbirds. The young birds leave their nest by the end of 2 weeks.


The male chooses the site for the nest and shows it to the female by elaborate singing and gestures. The male sometimes attaches nesting material on the site to mark it for the female to see it.

The female bird builds most of the nest and the male bird helps too. The nest is made on a forked branch. The female builds the nest cup using materials like grasses, rootlets, bark strips, and hair. She lines the nest with grasses and rootlets and decorates it with cocoons, lichens, moss, and catkins. The best cup measures around 3.3 inches across and 2.4 inches tall, with the interior cup 2.2 inches across and 1.7 inches deep.

Anatomy of a Plumbeous Vireo

Plumbeous Vireos are small but chunky birds with fairly round heads and strong wings. The bills of these birds are round and medium wide with a short length. The bill is slightly crooked in the end to help these birds catch, pounce, and dismember the bigger prey and insects with harder exoskeletons. The legs of these birds are thin but strong and have curled toes and sharp nails for better grip.

Final Thoughts

Plumbeous Vireos are widely categorized as the least concerned species. Being a small resilient birds, they have successfully maintained their population. However, as the primary habitat of these birds are coniferous and mixed deciduous forests, these birds are facing habitat loss as there has been a rapid decline of these forests because of
cutting down trees for fuel and turning forest lands into pastures.


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At the Bird Watching Academy & Camp we help kids, youth, and adults get excited and involved in bird watching. We have several monthly subscription boxes that you can subscribe to. Our monthly subscription boxes help kids, youth, and adults learn about birds, bird watching, and bird conservation.

Bird Watching Binoculars for IdentifyingPlumbeous Vireos

The most common types of bird watching binoculars for viewing Plumbeous Vireos are 8×21 binoculars and 10×42 binoculars. Bird Watching Academy & Camp sells really nice 8×21 binoculars and 10×42 binoculars. You can view and purchase them here.

Plumbeous Vireo Stickers

Stickers are a great way for you to display your love for bird watching and the Plumbeous Vireo. We sell a monthly subscription sticker pack. The sticker packs have 12 bird stickers. These sticker packs will help your kids learn new birds every month.

Bird Feeders For Plumbeous Vireos

There are many types of bird feeders. Bird feeders are a great addition to your backyard. Bird feeders will increase the chances of attracting birds drastically. Both kids and adults will have a great time watching birds eat at these bird feeders. There are a wide variety of bird feeders on the market and it is important to find the best fit for you and your backyard.

Bird Houses For Plumbeous Vireos

There are many types of bird houses. Building a bird house is always fun but can be frustrating. Getting a bird house for kids to watch birds grow is always fun. If you spend a little extra money on bird houses, it will be well worth every penny and they’ll look great.

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