Red-eyed Vireo

The Red-eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus) is a small American songbird. It is somewhat Warbler-like but not actually closely related to the New World Warblers (Parulidae). Common across its vast range, this species is not considered threatened by the IUCN.

About Red-eyed Vireos

Red-eyed Vireos are aptly named, as the name itself is an indicator of its distinct coloration. “Vireo” is a Latin word referring to a green migratory bird, perhaps the female Golden Oriole, possibly the European Greenfinch. The specific olivaceus in the scientific name for Red-eyed Vireos is New Latin for olive-green, from Latin oliva “olive”.

Another extremely apt aspect of their name is the fact that they’re called are red-eyed, because they do, indeed, have very distinct red irises.

Red-eyed Vireos are extremely adorable, with their small stature and sweet melodious songs. They are very prolific singers. They are quintessential examples of the entire bird species because of their melodies.

These birds are extremely interesting creatures, and it’s a blessing that their population is big enough for them to not be considered threatened to endangerment or extinction. As a bird watcher, you wouldn’t want to miss out on an opportunity to see Red-eyed Vireos in the wild. Especially since their features are so distinct, they are pretty easy to identify.

The key in identifying bird species; however, lies in your knowledge of the species in question. And so, this article will act as a crash course on Red-eyed Vireos! It’s always fun learning about the diversity of the bird world, and so, here are some essential key identifiers for Red-eyed Vireos.

● Red-eyed Vireo Photos, Color Pattern, Song
● Red-eyed Vireo Size, Eating behavior, Habitat

● Red-eyed Vireo Range and Migration, Nesting


Red-eyed Vireo Color Pattern

Adults of the Red-eyed Vireo species are mainly olive-green on the upperparts with white underparts. They have distinct red irises and grey crowns edged with black. There is a dark blackish line through the eyes and a wide white stripe just above that line. They have thick blue-grey legs and a stout bill. Red-eyed Vireos are yellowish on the flanks and under tail coverts (though this is faint in some populations). They have no wing bars.

The red-eye of adults is not always easy to see. In fact, immature Red-eyed Vireos tend to have brown eyes. They are larger and thicker-billed than Warblers, who share a very close resemblance to Red-eyed Vireos. Since there are a few sub-species of these birds, it often gets confusing while identifying them. That is why the true key to identifying these birds is through their songs and calls. 

Description and Identification

A tireless songster, the Red-eyed Vireo is one of the most common summer residents of Eastern forests. These neat, olive-green, and white songbirds have a crisp head pattern of gray, black, and white. Their brief but incessant songs sometimes more than 20,000 per day by a single male contribute to the characteristic sound of an Eastern forest in summer. When fall arrives, they head for the Amazon basin, fueled by summer of plucking caterpillars from leaves in the treetops.

As mentioned earlier, it is very easy to confuse a Red-eyed Vireo for its subspecies counterparts, such as Yellow-Green Vireo, the Chivi Vireo, and the Noronha Vireo. The easiest way to distinguish them is through voice.

Red-eyed Vireo Song

The song of Red-eyed Vireos is a broken series of slurred notes. Each phrase usually ends in either a downslur or an upswing, as if the bird asks a question, then answers it, over and over.

This species holds the record for most songs given in a single day among bird species, with more than 20,000 songs in one day. Red-eyed Vireos have a large repertoire size with one study finding an average of 31.4 song types per bird with one individual singing 73 different song types. They are extremely avid singers.

Apart from their song, they also have calls that are very striking to the ear. A loud, catbird-like “myaah” call punctuates many social interactions in this community. Both males and females use this particular call to emphasize warning displays toward potential predators or interlopers.

Females incubating eggs may use the same call to attract the male, as well as a “tchet, tchet, tchet” call to solicit food from him. Males use a second “tsherrrr” call during fights and territorial displays. Males and females sometimes snap their bills in flight as they swoop at intruders and predators.

Red-eyed Vireo Size

Red-eyed Vireos are large, chunky vireos with a long, angular head, thick neck, and a strong, long bill with a small but noticeable hook at the tip. The body is stocky and the tail fairly short. The adults of this species average at 4.7-5.1 inches, and have a wingspan of 9.1-9.8 inches. They grow to be about 12-26 grams in weight, on average.

Red-eyed Vireo Behavior

These birds are seen foraging in deciduous canopies where they can be difficult to find among the green leaves. They move slowly and methodically, carefully scanning leaves above and below for their favored caterpillar prey. However, their habit of near-incessant singing in summer, even in the heat of midafternoon, helps draw attention to them. They
forage in trees by picking insects from foliage and from undersides of leaves and flowers, often while hovering momentarily. 

Males sing persistently throughout the day during the breeding season. In courtship, males display to females with feathers slicked down, swaying their bodies and head from side to side. Both birds then vibrate their wings simultaneously. 

Red-eyed Vireo Diet

Red-eyed Vireos eat mostly insects, but they also eat berries. In summer, they feed mainly on insects, including caterpillars, moths, beetles, wasps, bees, ants, bugs, flies, walking sticks, cicadas, treehoppers, and scale insects. They have also been seen eating some snails and spiders. They tend to eat many berries, especially in late summer, including those of Virginia creeper, sumac, elderberry, blackberry, dogwood, and many others. In winter in the tropics, they may feed heavily on berries and small fruit for lack of sufficient insect feed.

Red-eyed Vireo Habitat

Red-eyed Vireos are very common in Eastern forests during summer. They enjoy large expanses of deciduous forest, particularly deciduous trees with large leaves (such as maples), typifying the Red-eyed Vireo habitat during the breeding season. On migration, you can look for them in nearly any type of forest, woodland, or woodlot (particularly in deciduous stands). They are often the commonest of vireo migrants.

Range and Migration

These birds are typically long-distance migrants. They leave the U.S. and Canada each fall to spend winters in the Amazon basin of South America. Western populations of the species typically swing east before joining common flight paths south.

Red-eyed Vireo Lifecycle 

Red-eyed Vireos breed once on a yearly basis. Males sing persistently throughout the day during the breeding season in order to heighten chances of courtship. While courting, males display to females with feathers slicked down, swaying their bodies and heads from side to side. Once the female is courted, both birds then vibrate their wings simultaneously.

They lay eggs in the range of 3-5, averaging at 4. Their eggs are white with brown or black spots near the larger end of the egg. The female is in charge of incubating the eggs, and this process takes up to 11-14 days. Red-eyed Vireo nests are frequently parasitized by Cowbirds, and so they have to come up with tactics to protect their unborn offspring. They do so by burying their eggs under the second floor of their nest. Once hatched, nestlings are fed by both parents. The young then leave the nest 10-12 days after hatching.

Red-eyed Vireos live long and fulfilling lives, with the oldest known Red-eyed Vireo being recorded to live to be about 10 years and 2 months old before it was recaptured and re-released. We like to think it lived on for long after this too!


During the breeding season, the males of this species sing persistently in order to increase their chances of finding a mate. While courting females, the males display themselves to the females with their feathers slicked down, and they sway their bodies and heads from side to side. On successful courtship, both the birds vibrate their wings simultaneously. They then begin the nesting process.

Their nests are usually placed 5-30 inches above the ground, sometimes 2-60 inches up in deciduous shrubs and saplings. The nests are built by the females of the species and are compact, dainty, and cup-like. The rims of the nest are woven onto a horizontal forked twig. The nests are made of strips of bark, grass stems, weeds, rootlets, and even
spiderwebs and cocoons!

Anatomy of a Red-eyed Vireo

Red-eyed Vireos are olive-green above and clean white below with strong head patterns. They have gray crowns and white eyebrow stripes, bordered above and below by blackish lines. Their flanks and underpart of their tails have a green-yellow wash. Adults of the species have red eyes that appear dark from a distance.

Juveniles of the species tend to have dark eyes and are a little harder to identify as their eyes can sometimes be brown. Males and females don’t differ in size too much. Juveniles have the same color patterns, but the colors may not be as bright and striking as on the adults of the species.

These birds are slightly large and chunky and have long angular heads with thick necks. Their bills are strong and long and have a small but very noticeable hook at the tip. They are stocky-looking birds, with fairly short tails.

Final Thoughts

Red-eyed Vireos are truly an enigma. They have distinct but not striking red eyes and a hooked bill that makes it easier to identify them. Red-eyed Vireos are very interesting creatures, and the most amazing part about them is their song! They are one of the most avid singers in the bird world, making it easier to identify them by sound itself.

These birds are a little difficult to spot in the wild, but it isn’t impossible. You will have to look for them in forests, especially of the deciduous kind. The music that they make is a giveaway, and so you must spot them with your ears before your eyes. If you want to spot Red-eyed Vireos, you must use your ears and listen to the curious question-and-answer song they sing. You may even learn multiple songs from them as they train your ears to identify different types of calls. These birds are a must-see/hear for bird-watchers everywhere, with their sweet songs and adorable stature!


Bird Watching Academy & Camp Subscription Boxes

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 IdentifyingRed-eyed Vireos

The most common types of bird watching binoculars for viewing Red-eyed 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.

Red-eyed Vireo Stickers

Stickers are a great way for you to display your love for bird watching and the Red-eyed 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 ForRed-eyed 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 ForRed-eyed 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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