Vireo plumbeus

Status:  Uncommon regular spring migrant west, accidental central. Uncommon regular breeder Pine Ridge. Uncommon regular fall migrant west, accidental central and east.

Documentation:  Specimen: UNSM ZM6773, 21 May 1900 Sioux Co.

Taxonomy:  No subspecies are recognized (Pyle 1997).

The former “Solitary” Vireo was split into three species by Banks et al (1997) based on studies by Murray et al (1994) and Johnson (1995). All three “new” species occur in Nebraska:  Blue-headed Vireo V. solitarius, Cassin’s Vireo V. cassinii, and this species.

Spring:  May 9, 9, 10 <<<>>> Jun 1, 2, 4

Dates above include reports of “Solitary” Vireo from the west prior to the species’ split in 1997; such reports are almost certainly of Plumbeous Vireo, although Cassin’s Vireo is a possibility in spring and may be confused with this species.

There are earlier reports 23 Apr 1993 Sioux Co (Grzybowski 1993) and three reports in 2020: singles 4 May in Scotts Bluff Co, 6 May in Sioux Co, and 7 May in Banner Co. Later reports are 6 Jun 2004 Wind Springs Ranch, Sioux Co and 6-8 Jun 2008 at Crescent Lake NWR, Garden Co; neither of the latter two locations have breeding habitat.

Migrants are uncommon (Rosche 1982), but have been reported throughout the Panhandle, with one easterly exception: one was well-studied at Brule, Keith Co 28 May 1956 (Huntley 1957).

  • High counts: 18 in Monroe Canyon, Sioux Co 18 May 2005, and 10 at Wildcat Hills SRA, Scotts Bluff Co 1 Jun 2019.
  • In 2011 at least eight were reported in the southwest Panhandle 27-31 May.

Summer:  Low numbers breed on the Pine Ridge, which has a disjunct population as in the Black Hills of South Dakota (Tallman et al 2002). In the 1980s, most breeding birds occurred from Sowbelly Canyon, Sioux Co westward (Rosche 1982), but in recent years the breeding range has expanded (or been discerned) eastward to Chadron SP, Dawes Co, where two were seen 3 Jun 2005 and two on 8 Jul 2007.

Reports between Sowbelly Canyon and Chadron SP are of a nest being built in East Hat Creek Canyon, Sioux Co 21 May 1996, an adult with a dependent fledgling in West Ash Canyon, Dawes Co 28 Jun 2006 (Mollhoff 2006), two in West Ash Canyon 7 Jul 2007, and a nest found in West Ash Canyon 5 Jun had a half-grown nestling 8 Jun (Mollhoff 2005).

Breeding is not known in the Wildcat Hills, Scotts Bluff and Banner Cos, although reports in 2017-2020 suggested that there may be an establishing or previously overlooked population there. A territorial pair was found in the eastern part of Wildcat Hills SRA in Scotts Bluff Co 4 Jul 2017, and in 2018 one was in the same place 12 Jun. Also, in 2018, along Hubbard’s Gap Road in Banner Co 3 were found 24 Jun and one on 30 Jul; singles were at the Croft residence on the north edge of the Wildcat Hills SRA 30 Jul 2018 and 17 Jul 2019 and in the Wildcat Hills 21 Jul 2012. In 2020 eight were in Carter Canyon 16 Jun, and up to four were elsewhere in the Wildcat Hills 5 Jun-24 Jul. It is possible that late Jul reports are of early fall migrants or dispersers.

  • Breeding Phenology:
    Nest Building: 21 May
    Eggs: 15-21 Jun
    Fledglings: 8-28 Jun

Fall:  summer <<<>>> Sep 22,23,24

Migrants are essentially restricted to the Panhandle. Breeding birds begin to leave by late Jul; early migrants have been reported 21 Jul 2012 Wildcat Hills, Scotts Bluff Co, 26 Jul 2004 in southern Sioux Co, and 29 Jul 2010 Bridgeport SRA, Morrill Co. Reports 30 Jul 2018 at both Hubbard’s Gap, Banner Co and also just north of Wildcat Hills SRA, Scotts Bluff Co, may be part of a possible breeding population there (see Summer). Later reports are of one at Wildcat Hills NC, Scotts Bluff Co 30 Sep 2015 and on 12 Oct 1990 Keith Co, the latter reported as “plumbeus” (Rosche 1994). Two were banded at Wildcat Hills NC 17 Sep 2014.

A later report, 30 Oct 1977 Garden Co, may be of any of the three recently-split species, but most likely Blue-headed, which tends to be a later migrant than Plumbeous or Cassin’s Vireos; Blue-headed is an Oct migrant as far west as the eastern Colorado plains (Andrews and Righter 1992). Andrews et al (2002) noted that Plumbeous Vireo is less numerous in fall migration at Barr Lake, Colorado, than is Cassin’s Vireo; some Sep reports of Plumbeous prior to 1997 were probably of Cassin’s Vireo.

There are two records away from the Panhandle; the only record for the east was documented at Wood Duck Area, Stanton Co 21 Sep 1997 (Brogie 1998), and one at Whitman, Grant Co 1 Sep 2002 is the only record for the central.

A specimen, UNSM ZM6776, was taken 27 Aug 1921 in Sioux Co.

  • High Counts:  7 in Sowbelly Canyon, Sioux Co 4 Sep 2016, 6 in East Ash Canyon, Dawes Co 5 Sep 2015, and 5 in Sowbelly Canyon 3 Sep 2018.

CommentsA Plumbeous Vireo with another presumptive vireo near Wildcat Hills NC 2 Jul 2015, where this species is not known to breed, was a notable observation. The identity of the second bird was not determined, but it had a “yellowish wash on the sides near the tail” and was thought by the observer to be a Cassin’s Vireo although its face pattern was not seen.  Juvenile Plumbeous Vireos do not show yellowish flanks, but fresh fall adults sometimes do. Perhaps these were a pair of failed breeding adult Plumbeous Vireos that had moved south from the Pine Ridge, one having initiated molt, or one was an extremely early fall migrant Cassin’s Vireo.


NC: Nature Center
SP: State Park
SRA: State Recreation Area
UNSM: University of Nebraska State Museum


Photograph (top) of a Plumbeous Vireo at Gotte Park, Kinball, Kimball Co 14 May 2017 by Michael Willison.

Literature Cited

Andrews, R., and R. Righter. 1992. Colorado birds.  Denver Museum of Natural History, Denver, Colorado, USA.

Andrews, R., R. Righter, M. Carter, T. Leukering, and A. Banks. 2002. Birds of Barr Lake and Surrounding Areas 1888 through 1999. Ornithological Monograph No. 1. Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory, Brighton, Colorado, USA.

Banks, R.C., J.W. Fitzpatrick, T.R. Howell, N.K. Johnson, B.L. Monroe Jr., H. Ouellet, J.V. Remsen Jr., and R.W. Storer. 1997. Forty-first supplement to the American Ornithologists’ Union Check-list of North American birds. Auk 114: 542-552.

Brogie, M.A. 1998. 1997 (Ninth) Report of the NOU Records Committee. NBR 66: 147-159.

Grzybowski, J.A. 1993. Southern Great Plains Region. American Birds 47: 272-273.

Huntley, C.W. 1957. Keith County. NBR 25: 24-25.

Johnson, N.K. 1995. Speciation in Vireos. I. Macrogeographic patterns of allozymic variation in the Vireo solitarius complex in the contiguous United States. Condor 97: 903-919.

Murray, B.W., W.B. McGillivray, J.C. Barlow, R.N. Beech, and C. Strobeck. 1994. The use of cytochrome b sequence variation in estimation of phylogeny in the Vireonidae. Condor 96:1037-1054.

Mollhoff, W.J. 2005. The 2003-2004 Nebraska nest report. NBR 73: 15-19.

Mollhoff, W.J. 2006. The 2006 Nebraska nest report. NBR 74: 142-147.

Pyle, P. 1997. Identification Guide to North American Birds. Part I, Columbidae to Ploceidae. Slate Creek Press, Bolinas, California, 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.

Tallman, D.A., Swanson, D.L., and J.S. Palmer. 2002. Birds of South Dakota. Midstates/Quality Quick Print, Aberdeen, South Dakota, USA.

Recommended Citation

Silcock, W.R., and J.G. Jorgensen. 2020.  Plumbeous Vireo (Vireo plumbeus). In Birds of Nebraska — Online.

Birds of Nebraska – Online

Updated 29 Aug 2020