You may remember the story I wrote about seeing my first marbled murrelet after many years of searching. Well, the search for another North American species came to fruition a month or so ago when I saw my first Hutton’s vireo, at the north end of the Peninsula.
Vireos are not always easy to identify because their plumage, characteristics, habits and size resemble that of other songbirds like our small flycatchers, warblers and kinglets. Vireos are small- to medium-sized songbirds. Their grayish, brownish, and yellowish plumage adds to the challenge of identification, especially when it comes to the Hutton’s vireo. A vireo’s color is similar to that of our smallest flycatchers, and its habit of working its way among the foliage searching for insects is exactly the way warblers do so too.
Hutton’s vireo is most similar to the ruby-crowned kinglet in that it has an eye-ring as does the ruby-crowned kinglet. It is also similar in color being a dull olive-gray. Even the Hutton’s behavior is similar to that of the ruby-crowned kinglet. So what differences does one look for?
A synopsis of scientific research findings indicates that the Hutton’s vireo is slightly smaller than the kinglet, its bill is thicker and it is chunkier in appearance. Its white eye-ring is broken above the eye and its thick bill is hooked at the end! The latter was the key identification marker for me. As with most things having to do with birds or birding, once a bird is seen it is easier to recognize it the next time. Thus, I have now identified it several times since my first sighting.
Both the Hutton’s and the ruby-crowned kinglet are common in the west and prefer conifer forests. The male ruby-crowned kinglet has a ruby crown which is usually hidden from view. It only becomes visible when he becomes excited or agitated. Its bill is thin and does not sport a hook at the end! It also forages for insects like the Hutton’s vireo. Both the ruby-crowned kinglet and the Hutton’s vireo love the bird bath. They are both among the spring “bathing beauties.” The Hutton’s has been the most frequent visitor of the two so far, and it doesn’t hesitate to chase other birds right out of the water if it wants in.
It will be easy to pick out a Hutton’s vireo when it is gleaning for insects and spiders among the leaves along with other similar looking, small songbirds. The hooked bill will jump right out at you in any situation now that you know what look for. Look for this tiny wonder in the mid to lower canopy of the forest and check out the “bathing beauties” if you have a bird bath. I hope you are lucky enough to spot this teeny bird with a hooked bill. If so you will be hooked on birds for life.
”Common Birds of the Long Beach Peninsula,” by Kalbach and Stauffer, is available from the Chinook Observer, Bay Avenue Gallery, Time Enough Books and the Long Beach Peninsula’s Visitors Center.