Photo and Commentary ©2018 by Robert Howson
Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Like others in its family, the Red-eyed Vireo is an indefatigable songster. In fact, it holds the North American record for the most songs sung in a single day by any species with an impressive 20,000 plus! Some have described the song as unending and monotonous, like a series of questions and answers that seem to go on endlessly. Such behavior has awarded it its nickname, to which a writer responded in 1889, “I have always thought that whoever dubbed this vireo the “preacher” could have had no very exalted opinion of the clergy”.

But not all would agree with this evaluation. Notice Audubon’s praise: “Now you hear its sweet, unaffected, musical, loud and free warble, from the inner top branches of a tall tree, for hours at a time, and even during the hottest part of the day; again, you may count each note that it utters, the little vocalist resting as it were to enjoy the sounds of its own music; next moment all seems hurry and bustle;…it raises its voice, and chants on with great volubility, so loudly that one might think the little creature intent on drowning all other sounds. The darker the woods, the more cloudy the day, the more unremitting are its exertions. …Few birds seem to enjoy life more than this Vireo”.

Lest we think all this is due to a charmed life, we should remember that just over half survive each year and only one out of four chicks reaches adulthood. It might be artificial to equate this with human emotions, butDietrich Bonhoeffer might not object. Notice his reaction to the human condition: “The essence of optimism is that it takes no account of the present, but it is a source of inspiration, of vitality and hope where others have resigned; it enables a man to hold his head high, to claim the future for himself and not to abandon it to his enemy.”