- Minnesota Breeding Bird Distribution
- Breeding Habitat
- Population Abundance
- Literature Cited
A regular summer resident and migrant. The Blue-headed Vireo was an uncommon species during the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas (MNBBA).
Found throughout northeastern North America, south in the Appalachian Mountains to northeastern Mississippi, and northwest across Canada to British Columbia (Figure 1). The highest densities are observed in Nova Scotia and north-central Ontario.
7/20 Continental Concern Score by Partners in Flight.
Short- to long-distance migrant, the species overwinters in the southeastern United States, Mexico, and Central America.
Insects and some spiders gleaned from foliage.
Cup nest suspended from fork usually at the end of a conifer shrub or sapling branch.
Roberts (1932) primarily knew the Blue-headed Vireo from his time at Itasca State Park and described it overall as a “frequent summer resident of the coniferous forests.” He reported nesting records from 1886 in Becker County (nest with eggs), at Itasca Park in 1919 and 1928 (nests with eggs), and one from Itasca County in 1930 (young ready to leave the nest). Overall he described its breeding distribution as south to Lake Mille Lacs, west to Itasca Park, and northeast to Cook, Lake, and St. Louis Counties.
More than forty years later, Green and Janssen (1975) described a similar breeding distribution in northeastern and north-central Minnesota. They reported breeding observations from Carlton County but stressed that its western boundary was “poorly known” and likely extended only to Itasca State Park. They added confirmed nesting in Hubbard, Lake, and St. Louis Counties. Janssen (1987) also reinforced the species’ primary distribution in northeastern and north-central Minnesota and included confirmed nesting since 1970 in 8 counties: Aitkin, Cass, Clearwater, Cook, Crow Wing, Hubbard, Lake, and St. Louis. He also noted summer observations from Beltrami and Roseau Counties. Later Hertzel and Janssen (1998) removed Clearwater County from the list of confirmed nesting since 1970.
During nest searches in Pine County in 1996, Pirjo and Dr. Markku Kuitunen of the country of Finland found a nest of the Blue-headed Vireo. This observation was gathered as part of a research project on the Least Flycatcher at the Natural Resources Research Institute at the University of Minnesota–Duluth. Unknown to them at the time, this is the most southerly confirmed nesting of the species in Minnesota.
The Minnesota Biological Survey included 355 breeding season locations of the Blue-headed Vireo and further solidified its primary breeding distribution in northeastern and north-central regions from Clearwater to Cook County. However, they also included many breeding observation locations from Carlton County, at least 5 locations from Pine County, and 1 location in northern Mille Lacs County.
The MNBBA included 915 breeding season records of the Blue-headed Vireo, including many from Cook and Lake Counties (Figure 2). These records also extended its possible breeding range to Kittson and Marshall Counties in the northwest as well as westward to Becker, Polk, and Wadena Counties. The species was recorded in 10.9% (514/4,734) of the surveyed atlas blocks and 13.2% (309/2,337) of priority blocks (Figure 3; Table 1). The MNBBA added confirmed nesting in Beltrami and Lake of the Woods Counties, plus evidence of probable nesting in Koochiching and Roseau Counties. It is likely that the Blue-headed Vireo nests throughout the northern region of Minnesota and as far northwest as coniferous trees are present.
Roberts (1932) noted a June 4, 1873, observation by Coues from Pembina on the Red River, at the border of North Dakota and Minnesota. This date also could represent a late migrant. Regardless, habitats along the Red River and other suitable habitats are very rare or no longer exist in many of these western counties. Similarly, many potential coniferous forests in its southwestern or southern range in Minnesota have been greatly reduced and converted to agricultural or urbanized areas.
Cutright et al. (2006) cited observations in the early 1900s from southern areas of Wisconsin and range retractions northward. However, during the Wisconsin breeding bird atlas from 1995 to 2000, nesting was confirmed in Calumet and Waukesha Counties. Waukesha County is south of the Minnesota and Iowa border, while Calumet County is equivalent in latitude to Winona County. Perhaps the unusual observation in 1983 from Houston County cited by Janssen (1987) should signal further scrutiny along the southeastern counties in Minnesota. In their review of the Blue-headed Vireo in North America, Morton and James (2014) emphasized that the species has been recolonizing places where they formerly occurred in the nineteenth century. In these areas reforestation of conifers has been implemented in the midwestern United States, such as in Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, and the province of Ontario.
*Note that the definition of confirmed nesting of a species is different for Breeding Bird Atlas projects, including the definition used by the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas, compared with a more restrictive definition used by the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union. For details see the Data Methods Section.