“One misty moisty morning,
When foggy was the weather,
I chanced to meet a new bird
Clothed all in feathers…”
And so it was, in the soggy aftermath of Tropical Storm Beta. While walking past the dense dark green of the magnolia outside our kitchen window for probably the 26,280th time (twice a day times 365 days per year times 36 years) I heard an unfamiliar cry. I stopped, eyes trained on the tree, watching for telltale movement. First I spied the cause—a blue jay, guilt written all over his hasty flight. Ignoring his departure, I kept watching. Ah! A bird new to me, gray above, whitish below, about 6 inches long. Unmistakable eye line. Something in my poet-soul said, “Vireo.” Something in my scientist-soul said, “Let’s not be hasty.” Half-confident, I went to my Sibley guide and scanned the Vireo section. And there it was: Red-eyed Vireo. Sometimes poets just know. And science refines the knowing. Wonderful!
David Allen Sibley says that when agitated the red-eyed vireo says “rreea.” Hmmm. Was that what I heard? I mean, what does rreea even sound like?
Next I checked Cornell’s online site. What Sibley calls “rreea” Cornell describes like this:
“A loud, catbird-like myaah call punctuates many social interactions. Both sexes use it to emphasize warning displays toward potential predators or interlopers.”
I’m pretty confident now in my ID, not least because when I heard the outcry I thought of a remark my dusky darling catbirds might make. But more pointed. “Myaah! Take that, you dang interloping potential predator blue jay!”
But wait, there’s more to say about the social language of the red-eyed vireo: “Males and females sometimes snap their bills in flight as they swoop at intruders and predators.”
“I warn, I swoop, I SNAP my bill at you!” This much is clear: You don’t want to get on the wrong side of a red-eyed vireo.
If, however, you want to see how pretty they are, and hear their good-mood song, check out this link: