Tommy J. DeBardeleben

Shrikes and Vireos of Maricopa County


Loggerhead Shrike Lanius ludovicianus

This strange songbird is really a bird of prey.  The Loggerhead Shrike behaves and feeds like a bird of prey, and it has strange feeding methods.  After it kills a songbird, it impals the bird on a thorn or barbwire fence, giving it the nickname "Butcher Bird".  Doing this makes it easier for the shrike to feed, and it also keeps it's prey in place for future meals.  The shrike sits hawklike on perches for long periods of time while hunting and waiting for it's prey.  Other than small songbirds, it also feeds on rodents, reptiles, amphibians, and insects.  The Loggerhead Shrike is widespread in North America, especially in the Lower 48.  It is found in a variety of open areas, most often open fields with scattered trees.  In Maricopa County, look for Loggerhead Shrikes in open desert, fields, chaparral covered slopes with scattered tall trees, and open clearings in riparian areas throughout the year.  Numbers increase during both migrations and throughout winter.


Bell's Vireo Vireo bellii

In mesquite thickets and thick riparian brush in midst of desert and riparian areas, the noisy Bell's Vireo makes it's home in Maricopa County.  This pale vireo can be hard to see in the open due to it's shy behavior, but it's loud singing is heard often throughout the day.  It is a very active bird, and it forages low in dense habitat, where it feeds on insects, spiders, and fruits.  Because the Bell's Vireo is a very pale bird, the paleness is often it's best field mark as opposed to other vireos.  Good areas and locations to find Bell's Vireos in Maricopa County are:  Area 1 (Mesquite Wash, Sunflower, Bushnell Tanks), much of Area 2, much of Area 3, Area 10 (Morgan City Wash, U.S. 60 Roadstop, Hassayampa River Preserve), all of Area 11, and all of Area 12.  Bell's Vireos are found elsewhere in Arizona in the same habitat.  They also range in North America in other parts of the southwest as well as much of the mid-east.


Gray Vireo Vireo vicinior

The Gray Vireo is limited to the southwestern United States in it's breeding range, where they are found almost always on dry and arid hillsides with scattered juniper trees.  The dry hillsides with scattered junipers are made up of scrub and chaparral.  Sometimes the Gray Vireo favors pinyon-juniper or oak-juniper habitat.  This vireo is very plain, and is rather distinctive, being told apart from other vireos by it's small complete eye ring, faint wing-bar, and small bill.  It also flicks it's long tail in ways similar to that of a gnatcatcher.  The Gray Vireo's song often gives away it's presence, which sounds similar to the song of a Plumbeous Vireo.  This bird is also shy and doesn't come out in the open much.  It forages low, and feeds on a variety of insects.  Arizona is a great state for viewing Gray Vireos, and Maricopa County holds one of the better viewing areas in the United States.  Breeding Gray Vireos are best viewed from April through August in chaparral habitat with scattered juniper trees.  In Maricopa County, several hotspots in the Highway 87 Area (Area 1), are great for viewing these birds in this right habitat.  Hotspots to find the vireos are the lower slopes of Mount Ord (best spot), Slate Creek Divide, and Four Peaks Wilderness, and also Bushnell Tanks and Sunflower.  Gray Vireos are also likely to be found throughout the Cave Creek Area (Area 11), which holds some good habitat.  Recently, Gray Vireos have been found wintering in the county on Lower Sonoran desert slopes in good numbers, where they spend the winter feeding on fruits that grow on elephant trees (John Arnett, Troy Corman, Arizona Field Ornithologists). 


Plumbeous Vireo Vireo plumbeous

The Plumbeous Vireo is found in the United States in the western part of the Lower 48.  It strongly favors open woods dominated by ponderosa pine trees or a mix of ponderosa pine and oak.  It forages in trees from medium to high levels, where it feeds on insects and sometimes fruits and berries.  This vireo is large and very slow moving.  The Plumbeous Vireo used to be a complex species called Solitary Vireo, which was split into three species:  Plumbeous, Cassin's, and Blue-headed Vireos.  All three species are very similar but have different colorations and no breeding range overlaps.  Plumbeous Vireos can actually be seen year round in Maricopa County as a migrant, winter visitor, and breeder.  Breeding Plumbeous Vireos are found in the pine and oak forests of the Highway 87 Area (Area 1) from April through August as the best viewing times.  They are found at Mount Ord, Slate Creek Divide, and Four Peaks Wilderness during breeding season.  The Plumbeous Vireos are also common spring and fall migrants in riparian areas, where some also winter in the county.


Cassin's Vireo Vireo cassinii

The Cassin's Vireo is very similar to the Plumbeous Vireo in behavior and habits as the two are very closely related, and once considered the same species along with the Blue-headed Vireo.  Cassin's Vireos are fairly common spring and fall migrants in Maricopa County, and a few individuals are found in winter.  This species breeds in the west along in the states that line the Pacific Coast from California north to southern Canada, where favored habitat is mixed conifer and pine-oak forests.


Hutton's Vireo Vireo huttoni

The Hutton's Vireo is freaky similar to the Ruby-crowned Kinglet in almost every way.  It is however, larger in size and has a much heaver bill than the thin and tiny bill of a kinglet.  This small bird is found breeding in pine and oak woodlands throughout it's range, which covered by two subspecies in the west: one on the pacific coast, the other in the interior southwest.  The Hutton's Vireo has a rather odd song, which is a harsh, rising and simple, one-syllable "zu-wee".  It feeds mostly on insects, as well as seeds and berries, and also often joins mixed flocks of other small birds.  Maricopa County has good breeding habitat for Hutton's Vireos in the pine-oak forests of Mount Ord, Slate Creek Divide, and Four Peaks Wilderness (Area 1), where they are fairly common in numbers.  Listen for their unique and short song, which is repeated time and time again, relentlessly.  Hutton's Vireos are usually nonmigratory, but do move to lower elevations in winter, especially to riparian habitats.


Warbling Vireo Vireo gilvus

The Warbling Vireo is the most widespread breeding vireo in North America, covering almost the entire continent except Alaska and far northern Canada.  It is found in mixed-forests, most often decidious forests or those with stands of aspen, and also in high riparian habitats with willow thickets.  This bird is named for it's long and amazing warbled song that is heard throughout the day.  The diet of a Warbling Vireo consists of is a variety of insects, caterpillars, and fruits.  Warbling Vireos are found breeding in Arizona in the eastern half of the state in these mixed forests and riparian areas, but not in Maricopa County.  This bird is found in Maricopa County as a migrant, common in both spring and fall.  It is numerous in both migrations, but is abundant in fall migration.  Warbling Vireos are usually found in riparian habitats when in migration, although they may be found in a variety of habitats.


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