Illustration by H. Douglas Pratt
This is a large, colorful vireo and a strong, though slow-paced, singer. It moves sluggishly, which combined with its camouflaged coloration, can make it difficult to locate high in the leaves of the tall shade trees it favors. The yellow-throated often cocks its head as it surveys its surroundings or methodically searches for insects. Monotypic. Length 5.5" (14 cm).
Identification The bright yellow spectacles, throat, and breast of this vireo are distinctive. Its wings are dark gray, with 2 bold, white wing bars. The crown and back are olive, rather bright, contrasting with a gray rump. Immature plumage is similar to that of the adult but paler yellow, sometimes with a slightly buffy throat.
Similar Species Unlike other vireos, but compare with pine warbler, with which it is confused, particularly in winter. Pine warbler has a greenish yellow rump, streaked sides, thinner bill, and less complete and distinct spectacles. Vocalizations of the 2 are different—pine warblers often give a high, thin note when moving between branches. The yellow-breasted chat, a particularly bulky warbler with a bill more suited to a vireo, has white spectacles and lacks wing bars.
Voice Call: includes a rapid series of harsh cheh notes, similar to those of the “solitary” vireo complex. Song: slow repetition of de-a-ree, three-eight; burry, low-pitched 2- or 3-note phrases separated by long pauses: It often gives a whisper song, which is more warbled and less burry.
Status and Distribution Fairly common. Breeding: deciduous and mixed deciduous-coniferous habitats. Migration: long-distance, trans-Gulf migrant. Early spring migrant, with arrivals in southern states mid–late March, mid April farther north, early May in Great Lakes. Fall migrations August–September (migrants noted as early as late July). Latest records are mid-October in northern and middle latitudes, early November in south. Winter: tropical lowlands of Central America, Bahamas, and Caribbean to northern South America. More scarce in United States than the numerous reports would suggest. Most reports are misidentified pine warblers or yellow-breasted chats. Rare in southernmost Florida, casual in southern California, southern Texas. Vagrant: very rare in the West, more in spring than fall.
Population Apparently stable, with some local fluctuations.
—From the National Geographic book Complete Birds of North America, 2006
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