Photo: Doug Wechsler/Vireo

Black-whiskered Vireo

Vireo altiloquus

Found almost throughout the West Indies in summer, this is the Caribbean replacement for our common Red-eyed Vireo. In our area, Black-whiskered Vireos are summer residents mainly in southern Florida. There they can be heard singing constantly in the coastal mangrove tangles on hot days in May. Natives of the Caribbean know this bird well by voice, often giving it nicknames that suggest the short emphatic phrases of the song, such as "John-Philip" or "Whip-Tom-Kelly."
Conservation status Declined seriously on west coast of Florida in the 1980s, after severe winters killed many mangroves there, and after Brown-headed Cowbirds became more common in that area.
Family Vireos
Habitat Mangroves; low woods. In Florida, breeds mainly in coastal mangrove swamps, but also in subtropical hardwoods on dry land, sometimes several miles inland. Migrants wandering beyond southern Florida may be in any kind of forest, but usually close to the coast. In winter in South America, found in open woods and forest edge.
Found almost throughout the West Indies in summer, this is the Caribbean replacement for our common Red-eyed Vireo. In our area, Black-whiskered Vireos are summer residents mainly in southern Florida. There they can be heard singing constantly in the coastal mangrove tangles on hot days in May. Natives of the Caribbean know this bird well by voice, often giving it nicknames that suggest the short emphatic phrases of the song, such as "John-Philip" or "Whip-Tom-Kelly."
Photo Gallery
  • adult
  • adult
Feeding Behavior

Forages by searching rather deliberately among foliage for insects, usually in the upper levels of mangroves or other trees.


Eggs

Usually 3, sometimes 2. White, with spots of brown, purple, or black. Incubation is by female only; length of incubation period not well known. Young: Female feeds the young and probably male does also, but details (including age at which the young leave the nest) are not well known.


Young

Female feeds the young and probably male does also, but details (including age at which the young leave the nest) are not well known.

Diet

Mostly insects and other arthropods, some berries. At times, up to 40% of diet can be spiders. Also feeds on many insects, including caterpillars, earwigs, beetles, wasps, bees, true bugs, flies, mosquitoes, and others. Also eats some berries and possibly seeds during the breeding season. In winter, in the tropics, up to 50% of diet can be berries and small fruit.


Nesting

Males arrive in Florida in April, and defend breeding territories by singing continuously throughout the day. Nest: Placed 3-20' above the ground or water, in a mangrove or a deciduous tree. Nest (built by female) is a compact, basket-like cup, suspended by the rim, woven onto a horizontal forked twig. Made of seaweed, grass, weeds, palmetto fibers, spiderwebs, cocoons, lichen; lined with grass, pine needles, and hair.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Strictly a summer resident in Florida and nearby islands (may be a permanent resident farther east in the Caribbean). Stray birds appear regularly farther northwest along Gulf Coast in spring.

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Migration

Strictly a summer resident in Florida and nearby islands (may be a permanent resident farther east in the Caribbean). Stray birds appear regularly farther northwest along Gulf Coast in spring.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Similar to that of Red-eyed Vireo but distinctly more abrupt, and in 1- to 4-note phrases, sometimes described as Whip-Tom-Kelly.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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