A practical guide to bird watching in Sonoma County, California

(Unless otherwise indicated, all phone numbers are in the 707 area code)


A fairly common summer resident in Sonoma County, but most commonly encountered here in the spring. Favors edge habitiats--open areas near woods, often near water, although Floyd notes that Eastern US populations are more dependent on riparian corridors than our birds. Prefers mature deciduous trees, especially cottonwoods, but may be found in conifers, particularly at higher elevations. May be found in appropriate habitat in suburbia, including parks, and cemeteries. Spring Lake, in Santa Rosa, is a good place to see this species (especially in the trees around the lagoon area), but widespread in suitable habitat. Breeds throughout the county, except in the low-lying areas devoid of trees near the coast of San Pablo Bay. Almost entirely insectivorous, but eats berries in the autumn. Notably good songster, as its common name suggests. The song is well worth learning (link below). Often heard before it’s seen--and sometimes heard but never seen, as it tends to stay high in trees, concealed by vegetation.

Grey to pale olive above, with the cap greyer and usually a little darker than the rest of the upper parts. Fairly drab, with no wing bars, but creamy white below with hints of yellow at the vent and on the flanks. Pronounced white eyebrow stands out, sandwiched between the darker cap and a greyish post-ocular line. Lacks the white eyering of Hutton’s Vireo, our most common vireo, but diffusely pale below the eye as well, which makes the large, dark eye prominent. The unmarked white breast and belly combined with the pale eyebrow gives an overall clean impression and Warbling Vireo is elegantly shaped as well. A plain, but very pretty bird always a pleasure to see. Often confused with Philadelphia Vireo (Vireo philadelphicus), but that bird is not normally present in Sonoma County.

Trivia: 1. Males are known to sing while incubating eggs on nests. 2. Suffers from a high rate of Cowbird parasitism.

Further reading:

Bolander and Parmeter, Birds of Sonoma County California, rev. ed., 2000, p. 86

Brinkley, National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2007, p. 328

Burridge, ed., Sonoma County Breeding Bird Atlas, 1995, p. 143

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 5th ed., 2006, p. 318

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 6th ed., 2011, p. 356

Dunne, Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion, 2006, pp. 432-433

Ehrlich, Dobkin, and Wheye, The Birder's Handbook, paperback edition, 1988, p. 498

Fix and Bezener, Birds of Northern California, 2000, p. 258

Floyd, Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 2008, p. 306

Kaufman, Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2000, p. 300

Kaufman, Advanced Birding, 1990, pp. 225-227

Lukas, Bay Area Birds: From Sonoma County to Monterey Bay, 2012, pp. 187-188

Parmeter and Wight, Birds of Sonoma County California, Update (2000-2010), 2012, no entry

Peterson, Birds of Eastern and Central North America, 5th ed., 2002, p. 256

Peterson, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America, 4th ed., 2010, p. 260

Peterson, Western Birds, 3rd ed., 1990,  p. 286

Sibley, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America,1st ed., 2003, p. 300

Stokes, Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 1st ed., 2010, p. 493

Vuilleumier, American Museum of Natural History, Birds of North America: Western Region, 2011, p. 270

Voice: Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds--Warbling Vireo



© Colin Talcroft, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013

Unless noted, all photos by the author. If you would like to use one of my images, please ask for permission for non-commercial use with proper credit or commercial use with proper compensation.


Warbling Vireo

Vireo gilvus

Warbling Vireo, Spring Lake, Santa Rosa, July 31, 2013

1990-2013 Sonoma County data. Graph provided by eBird (www.ebird.org), generated Aug 4, 2013

EBird reported occurrence in Sonoma County

Warbling Vireo, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco (San Francisco County), September 7, 2013

A good view of the pale supercilium, or “eyebrow” and the tiny hook and the end of the bill typical of vireos