Blue-headed Vireo Vireo solitarius
Huntington Central Park, Huntington Beach
Orange County, California
13 May 2000
Joseph Morlan

Photos and video © 13 May 2000 by Maya Decker
If you have the free Real Player installed, you can view a short video clip and hear the song of the bird:

Today, Robbie Fischer and I decided to check Huntington Central for migrants. First we birded the area around Shipley Nature Center. As we were leaving we met Jerry Tolman, Curtis Johnson and Loren Hays, who alerted us that Paul Klar had found a singing male Blue-headed Vireo near the Gothard Street parking lot at the northeast section of the park. We immediately left to look for it, but were unsuccessful in about 45 minutes of searching the area. Then Doug Willick, Brian Daniels and Jeff Boyd arrived. Soon Brian heard the distinctive high slurred whistles of the Blue-headed Vireo high in a eucalyptus near the picnic tables. We then studied the bird at close range for another 45 minutes or so as it fed fairly deliberately in the eucalyptus. If fed mostly on Craneflies, but also caterpillars, etc. It was not observed to feed on the lerps that infested the trees.

The following is based on notes taken during and immediately after the observation:

A smallish looking vireo, about the size and overall appearance of Cassin's Vireo (not available for comparison), but with a much darker slate-blue face and head. The white spectacles were very large, bold, and seemed unusually thick, recalling the appearance of Black-capped Vireo.

The throat and chin were immaculate white, contrasting strongly with the dark cheeks and forming a crisp border with the dark area. There was no blending along the border as usually see on Cassin's Vireo. The white throat blended with the slightly dull breast and belly which showed a few smudged, dingy markings. The sides, flanks and undertail coverts were a fairly bright greenish-yellow, faintest on the sides.

The back was olive-green contrasting well with the slate-blue head. The wing coverts were heavily worn, revealing very narrow whitish wing-bars. The tertials were black and showed crisp clean whitish fringes on the outer webs.

The tail was relatively short, without tail spots, dark above and gray below with narrow white fringing on the outer web of outer rectrices extending all the way to the tip of each feather.

The eye was black, contrasting well with the white spectacles. The bill was fairly short, thick and slightly hooked at the tip, dark gray or blackish in color. The legs and feet were fairly thick and sturdy, and in good light appeared gray-blue. In shade they appeared dark. At one point the rear toenail was visible in silhouette. It was very short and strongly curved.

The most distinctive feature of the bird was its vocalizations. The song consisted of slow, measured, slurred phrases, somewhat like that of Cassin's Vireo, but the pitch was much higher, thinner and clearer. It totally lacked the burry quality of Cassin's or Plumbeous vireo. Other vocalizations included a rapid, descending, rippling chatter, somewhat goldfinch like, and a nasal scold note.