Thursday, May 16, 2013

solitary complex

Blue-headed Vireo (Vireo solitarius) Photo by Dominic Sherony

Not as flashy as the wood warblers, the vireos are often overlooked. And for them, it's not for the lack of trying; they sing constantly, over and over, all day long. Song phrase after phrase, "I'm up here. See me, see me. Can't you see? Take a look. Darn pretty am I."

Growing up, I learned this bird as the solitary vireo, but in 1997, the AAU rethought the sweet thing. Because of new molecular data, what once had been one species coast-to-coast was split into three seperate, now known as the Solitary Vireo Complex. (Solitary with a complex, sounds serious. When it comes to IDing a bird, the very word complex sends a shiver down my spinal column to my coccyx.)

But don't sweat telling the three apart, the one here in East Tennessee, blue-headed vireo, is also the one most common and widespread of the three. The other two are listed as uncommon and both occur out west: Cassin's vireo (Pacific Northwest) and plumbeous vireo (Rocky Mountains south).

The prominent field marking they all share is those great Elton John Goodbye-Yellow-Brick-Road spectacles circa 1973. 

Last Sunday, we (Karen Sue, Eliot, moi) found several blue-headeds along a gravel road high in the Cumberlands. Leaves were just unfurling at that elevation and the birds were setting up territories, we assume rather proud of their real estate.

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