A tasty treat for Mama
by Juanita N. Baker, Ph.D.
Snug in the green-needled branches of a hemlock tree in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains, the female Blue-headed Vireo sat on her tiny, lichen-crusted nest. Her mate brought her and the nestlings insect treats like this adult caddisfly in this photo by Becky Loftus. Unlike our year-round resident, the White-eyed Vireo, this species nests in summer in coniferous forests in the Appalachian Mountains and across Canada in elevation above 800 feet. After the young are reared, they return to Florida by mid-October and stay until mid-to-late April. After staying the winter here, they hurry to return north again—to breed. With its key features: eye spectacles and gray head, and thick bill (unlike the warbler’s sharp, thinner bill), you can remember it as Grandma Vireo coming to winter in Florida, a true snow-bird!
When Blue-headed Vireos come to Florida, they seek out wooded areas, but use urban areas if these are well-treed with mixed broadleaf and pine trees. Their diet is 95% insects, obtained by foraging in shrubby thickets and Live Oaks, mostly along the interior branches. The birds pluck nutritious medium to large insects from the branches and leaves. They rarely forage on the ground or in the treetops. By planting native plants in your yard that attract insects of all kinds, but mostly moths and butterflies producing large caterpillars, you’ll invite birds to feed and nest. Blue-headed Vireos even eat their vegetables as 5% of their diet is made of the plump fruits of bayberry, wax myrtle, sumac, viburnum, and wild grape. Many native plants are available for you and the birds at PIAS, like the Live Oak, Dahoon Holly, Beautyberry, Firebush, Florida Privet, Walter’s Viburnum and Long-leaf Pine. Bring the birds home!