Photograph by Scott Leslie, Minden Pictures/Nat Geo Image Collection
Read Caption

A red-eyed vireo perches on a branch in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Photograph by Scott Leslie, Minden Pictures/Nat Geo Image Collection

Red-Eyed Vireo

A large vireo, the red-eyed is one of the most common songbirds in eastern woodlands. It moves sluggishly through the canopy of broadleaf forests, making it hard to detect, and often picks food by hover-gleaning. It sings incessantly, often throughout the day. Polytypic. Length 6".


Bold face pattern with white eyebrow, bordered above and below with black. Ruby red iris of adult visible at close range. Gray to blue-gray crown contrasts with olive back and darker wings and tail. Lacks wing bars. Fall: flanks and undertail coverts usually washed olive or olive-yellow. Immature: brown iris; often extensive yellow or olive-yellow wash on undertail coverts and flanks, which may extend up to the bend of the wing.

Geographic Variation

Weak and clinal in 2 North American subspecies. The chivi subspecies group of South America has been considered a separate species.

Similar Species

Resembles the black-whiskered vireo, but the red-eyed has a bold, black lateral crown stripe above its white eyebrow; more green above, less brown; red eye (adult); and will not show the diagnostic black whisker. The yellow-green vireo can be similar.


Call: a whining, down-slurred myahh. Song: a deliberate cheer-o-wit, cher-ee, chit-a wit, de-o; a persistent singer of a variable series of robinlike short phrases

Status and Distribution

Common. Breeding: woodlands. Migration: long-distance migrant. First spring arrivals on Gulf Coast by late March, late April in East/Midwest; peaks during April on Gulf Coast, mid-May in East/Midwest. Migration continues into June farther north; peaks late August through September, most depart by early October, some linger to November. Southern peak is early September–early October Winter: winters in northern South America. No documented winter records for North America—reports at this season suspect. Vagrant: rare but annual across Southwest; small numbers annually along California coast. More than 75 records for Europe, primarily late September–mid-October.


Stable. Expanded into Oregon, Utah, and then Newfoundland in the mid-20th century.

—From the National Geographic book Complete Birds of North America, 2006