Vireo bellii bellii

Status:  Fairly common regular spring and fall migrant east and central, uncommon west. Common regular breeder central, fairly common east, rare west.


Documentation:  Specimen: UNSM ZM10541, 12 Aug 1907 (two birds) Lincoln, Lancaster Co.

Taxonomy:  There are four subspecies recognized, including pusillus, which may soon be afforded specific status as V. pusillus Least Bell’s Vireo (Gill and Donsker 2017); the other three are arizonae of Mexico, medius of southern New Mexico and west Texas, and bellii of the central and southern USA. Nebraska birds are bellii.

Changes Since 2000:  Reports in the Panhandle have increased; there were very few prior to 2005, and about 21 since.

Spring:  Apr 29, 30, 30 <<<>>> summer (east), May 4, 5, 5 <<<>>> summer (central), May 20, 21, 21 <<<>>> summer (west)

Earlier dates in the east are 11 Apr 2009 Butler Co, and 17 Apr 2017 Lancaster Co; in the central 2 May 2020 Keya Paha Co; in the west 7 May 2002 Crescent Lake NWR, Garden Co, and 15 May 2020 Kimball Co.

First arrivals are in the east, becoming progressively later westward, especially in the Panhandle. Kus et al (2020) noted that arrival is later at higher elevations and northward.

Since 2005 reports in the Pine Ridge have increased; there have been 11 Pine Ridge reports 20 May-3 Jun, and in the Panhandle south of the Pine Ridge there is a record 7 May 2002 Crescent Lake NWR, Garden Co, and these reports since 2009: 15 May 2020 Oliver Reservoir, Kimball Co, 16 May 2015 Highway 61 at Niobrara River, Cherry Co, 21 May-8 Jun 2010 Crescent Lake NWR, 28 May 2015 Gering, Scotts Bluff Co, 29 May 2016 Scotts Bluff Co, 31 May 2016 Crescent Lake NWR, 3 Jun 2014 Gordon BBS, Sheridan Co, and 4 Jun 2019 Wildcat Hills SRA, Scotts Bluff Co.

  • High counts: 46 at Rock Creek SRA, Dundy Co 26 May 2019, 34 at Calamus Reservoir, Loup Co 24 May 1997, and 23 in Chase Co around 30 May 1999.

SummerAlthough this species breeds statewide, it is least numerous in western Sandhills grasslands and in the Panhandle, where extensive brushy habitat is lacking; Jorgensen (2012) noted that it is also largely absent as a breeder from the Rainwater Basin because of limited habitat. However, Mollhoff (2016) showed a small number of records from this latter landscape. Overall, it is increasing in numbers; the BBS Trend analysis shows Bell’s Vireo has increased at an average rate of 4.50% (95% C.I.; 2.40, 6.62) per year statewide during the period 1966-2015 (Sauer et al 2017). BBS trend map analysis shows that increases have occurred in all areas except for the Panhandle, where there are few data. Changes in the amount and distribution of breeding habitat due to human intervention has likely attributed to local and regional increases, as the absence of disturbance regimes, such as fire, has allowed expansion of shrub habitat. Rosche (1994) noted that “inadequate stream flow” in the North Platte River channel in Keith Co has allowed dense riparian brush to return, benefitting this species in recent years. However, clearing of brush along watercourses, such as along the central Platte River, and reintroducing fire regimes tend to reduce the extent of breeding habitat.

Along the Niobrara River Valley, Kus et al (2020) depicted the range as continuous west to the Pine Ridge; it is indeed common west to NNF McKelvie, Merritt Reservoir, and Valentine NWR in Cherry Co, but between there and the Pine Ridge numbers are low; the lone two records are listed below under western Sandhills.

In the Panhandle, numbers are low. Johnsgard (1979) stated that it was absent in most of the Panhandle except for the White River Valley, and Rosche (1982) considered it rare to uncommon in the northwest, with “no nesting evidence”.  Ducey (1988) cited a breeding record for Dawes Co in 1966. Since 2008 there have been  five reports on the Pine Ridge in the breeding season, in step with the recent increase in spring reports:  two on 10 Jun 2015 Ponderosa WMA, Dawes Co, 1-3 on 10-11 Jun 2015 Chadron SP, one on 13 Jun 2009 in Dawes Co, and 1-2 on 19-20 Jun 2018 in Kings Canyon, Dawes Co, 19 Jul 2019 Chadron Reervoirs, Dawes Co, as well as eight reports of 1-3 birds 20 May-22 Jul 2010-2019 at Fort Robinson SP and SRA, Sioux and Dawes Cos.

In the western Sandhills and Panhandle south of the Pine Ridge, there are few breeding season reports. Ducey (1988) cited a breeding record for Scotts Bluff Co in 1964, and there are these breeding season reports: 25 Jun 2016 Crescent Lake NWR, 25 Jun 2016 and 17 Jun 2019 Ash Hollow SHP, Garden Co, 15-17 Jul at four Garden Co locations (Williams 1987), 20 Jul 2019 Niobrara River and 131 Trail, Sheridan Co, 1 Aug 1966 Scotts Bluff Co, 7 Aug 1976 Scotts Bluff Co, and 8 Aug 2014 Grant Co.

  • Breeding Phenology:
    Eggs: 26 May-21 Jun
    Nestlings: 16 May-27 Jul
    Fledglings: 6-14 Jul
  • High counts: 36 at Rock Creek SRA, Dundy Co 18 Jul 2020.

Fall: summer <<<>>> Sep 12, 12, 14 (north, west);  summer <<<>>> Sep 21, 21, 22 (south, east)

Later dates in the south and east are 24 Sep 2018 Hall Co, 30 Sep 2009 Dodge Co, 5 Oct 2009 Dodge Co, and 8 Oct 1996 Otoe Co (Falk 2002).

Later dates in the north and west are 16 Sep 2008 Cherry Co, 19 Sep 2013 Custer Co, 23 Sep 2015 Thomas Co, 25 Sep 1999 Loup Co, 25 Sep 2019 Valentine NWR, Cherry Co, 25 Sep 2009 Custer Co, 3 Oct 2008 Scotts Bluff Co.

Departure in the north is completed by early Sep, and in the south and east by mid-Sep.

There are very few Panhandle reports: 9 Aug 2018 Sioux Co, 15 Aug 1992 Garden Co, 1 Sep 2020 Wright’s Gap Road, Banner Co, 14 Sep 2013 Oliver Reservoir SRA, Kimball Co, and 3 Oct 2008 Scotts Bluff Co.

  • High counts: 51 at Rock Creek SRA, Dundy Co 9 Aug 2020, 30 at Calamus Reservoir 20 Aug 1995, and 28 at Rock Creek SRA, Dundy Co 1 Sep 2018.


BBS: Breeding Bird Survey
NNF: Nebraska National Forest
NWR: National Wildlife Refuge
SHP: State Historical Park
SP: State Park
SRA: State Recreation Area
UNSM: University of Nebraska State Museum
WMA: Wildlife Management Area (State)

Literature Cited

Ducey, J.E. 1988. Nebraska birds, breeding status and distribution. Simmons-Boardman Books, Omaha, Nebraska, USA.

Falk, L. 2002. Birds in Otoe County. Published by the author, Nebraska City, Nebraska, USA.

Gill, F., and D. Donsker (Eds). 2017. IOC World Bird List (v 7.3), accessed 30 January 2018.

Johnsgard, P.A. 1979. Birds of the Great Plains: breeding species and their distribution.  University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.

Jorgensen, J.G. 2012.  Birds of the Rainwater Basin, Nebraska.  Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.

Kus, B., S.L. Hopp, R.R. Johnson, and B.T. Brown. 2020. Bell’s Vireo (Vireo bellii), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.

Mollhoff, W.J. 2016. The Second Nebraska Breeding Bird Atlas. Bull. Univ. Nebraska State Museum Vol 29. University of Nebraska State Museum, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.

Rosche, R.C. 1982. Birds of northwestern Nebraska and southwestern South Dakota, an annotated checklist. Cottonwood Press, Crawford, Nebraska, USA.

Rosche, R.C. 1994. Birds of the Lake McConaughy area and the North Platte River valley, Nebraska.  Published by the author, Chadron, Nebraska, USA.

Sauer, J.R., D.K. Niven, J.E. Hines, D.J. Ziolkowski, Jr, K.L. Pardieck, J.E. Fallon, and W.A. Link. 2017.  The    North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966 – 2015 (Nebraska). Version 2.07. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, Maryland, USA.

Williams, F. 1987. Southern Great Plains Region. American Birds 41: 454-458.

Recommended Citation

Silcock, W.R., and J.G. Jorgensen. 2021.  Bell’s Vireo (Vireo bellii). In Birds of Nebraska — Online.

Birds of Nebraska – Online

Updated 22 Jan 2021