Birds - White-eyed Vireo
( Originally Published 1904 )
(Vireo noveboracensis) Vireo or Greenlet family
Length—5 to 5.3 inches. An inch shorter than the English sparrow.
Male and Female—Upper parts bright olive-green, washed with grayish. Throat and underneath white; the breast and sides greenish yellow; wings have two distinct bars of yellowish white. Yellow line from beak to and around the eye, which has a white iris. Feathers of wings and tail brownish and edged with yellow.
Range—United States to the Rockies, and to the Gulf regions and beyond in winter.
Migrations—May. September. Summer resident.
" Pertest of songsters," the white-eyed vireo makes what-ever neighborhood it enters lively at once. Taking up a residence in the tangled shrubbery or thickety undergrowth, it immediately begins to scold like a crotchety old wren. It becomes irritated over the merest trifles—a passing bumblebee, a visit from another bird to its tangle, an unsuccessful peck at a gnat—anything seems calculated to rouse its wrath and set every feather on its little body a-trembling, while it sharply snaps out what might perhaps be freely constructed into " cuss-words."
And yet the inscrutable mystery is that this virago meekly permits the lazy cowbird to deposit an egg in its nest, and will patiently sit upon it, though it is as large as three of her own tiny eggs; and when the little interloper comes out from his shell the mother-bird will continue to give it the most devoted care long after it has shoved her poor little starved babies out of the nest to meet an untimely death in the smilax thicket below.
An unusual variety of expression distinguishes this bird's voice from the songs of the other vireos, which are apt to be monotonous, as they are incessant. If you are so fortunate to approach the white-eyed vireo before he suspects your presence, you may hear him amusing himself by jumbling together snatches of the songs of the other birds in a sort of potpourri; or perhaps he will be scolding or arguing with an imaginary foe, then dropping his voice and talking confidentially to himself. Suddenly he bursts into a charming, simple little song, as if the introspection had given him reason for real joy. All these vocal accomplishments suggest the chat at once; but the minute your intrusion is discovered the sharp scolding, that is fairly screamed at you from an enraged little throat, leaves no possible shadow of a doubt as to the bird you have disturbed. It has the most emphatic call and song to be heard in the woods; it snaps its words off very short. "Chick-a-rer chick" is its usual call-note, jerked out with great spitefulness.
Wilson thus describes the jealously guarded nest: "This bird builds a very neat little nest, often in the figure of an inverted cone; it is suspended by the upper end of the two sides, on the circular bend of a prickly vine, a species of smilax, that generally grows in low thickets. Outwardly it is constructed of various light materials, bits of rotten wood, fibres of dry stalks, of weeds, pieces of paper (commonly newspapers, an article almost always found about its nest, so that some of my friends have given it the name of the politician); all these materials are interwoven with the silk of the caterpillars, and the inside is lined with fine, dry grass and hair."