Conservation status Population status not well known, but probably stable.
Family Vireos
Habitat Brushy mountain slopes, mesas, open chaparral, scrub oak, junipers. Breeds in dry thorn scrub, chaparral, pinyon-juniper and oak-juniper scrub, or sagebrush and mesquites of arid foothills and mesas, between 3,000-6,500' elevation. In winter, in northwest Mexico, found near coast in dry thorn scrub of elephant trees and giant cacti.
Few birds are as plain as the Gray Vireo, a drab summer resident of juniper woods and open brush in the Great Basin region. What it lacks in color, however, it makes up for with personality, hopping around actively in the scrub, singing, and flopping its tail about. Sometimes the bird seems unafraid, coming quite close to birders who stand still in its habitat.

Feeding Behavior

Usually forages within 5' of the ground, moving about actively in brush on dry slopes. Also does some foraging on the ground. In winter, individuals defend feeding territories, driving away others of their own kind.


4, sometimes 3-5. Pinkish-white with brown specks scattered near large end. Incubation is by both parents, 13-14 days. Cowbirds frequently lay eggs in nests of this species. Gray Vireos will sometimes deal with such parasitism by constructing second floor of nest over cowbird eggs. Young: Both parents feed nestlings. Young leave the nest 13-14 days after hatching. 2 broods per year.


Both parents feed nestlings. Young leave the nest 13-14 days after hatching. 2 broods per year.


Insects and fruits. During the breeding season, feeds mostly on insects, including beetles, caterpillars, small moths, bugs, treehoppers, tree crickets, dobsonflies, cicadas, grasshoppers, and many others. In winter, eats many berries, especially those of elephant trees, in addition to insects.


Male defends nesting territory by singing through much of breeding season. Nest: Placed in shrub, frequently oak or juniper, 1-12' from ground, but most commonly 2-8' up. Nest is supported by the rim woven onto a horizontal forked twig. Nest (built by both sexes) is a deep, rounded cup made of weeds, shreds of bark, grass stems, leaves, and plant fibers; bound with spiderwebs, and lined with fine grass.

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

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A short-distance migrant, wintering in northwestern Mexico.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon

See a fully interactive migration map for this species on the Bird Migration Explorer.

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Songs and Calls

Song is a series of 4-6 phrases with a pause between each phrase and a much longer pause between stanzas: cheerio . . . che-whew . . . chireep? . . . cheerio.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.