Photo: Greg W. Lasley/Vireo

Black-capped Vireo

Vireo atricapilla

Flitting about actively in the oak scrub, often hanging upside down momentarily, the little Black-cap is our most distinctive vireo. It is also the rarest, nesting only locally in Texas and Oklahoma. Its eggs take an unfortunately long time to hatch; cowbird eggs, laid in the same nests, usually hatch first, so that the vireos raise only young cowbirds. Without some kind of control of cowbird numbers, the vireo may face extinction.
Conservation status Endangered. Has disappeared from many former haunts, and is declining in many current breeding areas. Heavy cowbird parasitism and loss of habitat are major threats. In some areas, projects are under way to control cowbird numbers and to create more nesting habitat through controlled burning.
Family Vireos
Habitat Oak scrub, brushy hills, rocky canyons. Breeds on hot dry hillsides with dense thickets of brush, especially scrub oaks, often with many openings or gaps rather than solid cover. Winters in Mexico in dense thickets and woodland edges, especially in foothills and lowlands.
Flitting about actively in the oak scrub, often hanging upside down momentarily, the little Black-cap is our most distinctive vireo. It is also the rarest, nesting only locally in Texas and Oklahoma. Its eggs take an unfortunately long time to hatch; cowbird eggs, laid in the same nests, usually hatch first, so that the vireos raise only young cowbirds. Without some kind of control of cowbird numbers, the vireo may face extinction.
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Feeding Behavior

Forages more actively than most vireos, moving among branches and twigs in dense cover, sometimes hanging upside down like a chickadee to take items from underside of foliage.


Eggs

3-4, rarely 2-5. White, unmarked (most other vireos lay spotted eggs). Incubation, by both parents, averages about 15 days, surprisingly long for small size of bird. Young: Both parents feed nestlings. Young leave the nest about 10-12 days after hatching, and may be cared for by parents for more than another month. Sometimes male is left to care for first brood while female begins 2nd nesting attempt.


Young

Both parents feed nestlings. Young leave the nest about 10-12 days after hatching, and may be cared for by parents for more than another month. Sometimes male is left to care for first brood while female begins 2nd nesting attempt.

Diet

Mostly insects, some berries. Feeds mainly on insects in summer; diet not known in detail, but eats many caterpillars, beetles, small grasshoppers and crickets, and others, as well as spiders. Also eats some berries and small fruits. Winter diet poorly known, but may include more berries.


Nesting

Male defends territory by singing frequently through much of breeding season. In courtship, male sings while following female; may also perform short song-flight. Nest: Placed in low scrubby oak or other dense shrub, usually 2-6' above ground, rarely higher. Both parents help build nest, a small hanging cup suspended in the horizontal fork of a twig. Nest is made of grass, strips of bark, weeds, leaves, bound together with spiderwebs; inside is lined with fine grass.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Migration

Generally arrives in Texas in April, departs in September. Migrates toward the southwest in fall, wintering along west coast of Mexico.

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Migration

Generally arrives in Texas in April, departs in September. Migrates toward the southwest in fall, wintering along west coast of Mexico.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Harsh and varied phrases, sometimes musical.