- Minnesota Breeding Bird Distribution
- Breeding Habitat
- Population Abundance
- Literature Cited
A regular breeding resident and migrant primarily in the deciduous forest belt of Minnesota. The Yellow-throated Vireo was a common species during the Minnesota Breeding Bird Alas (MNBBA).
An inhabitant of the eastern deciduous forests, the Yellow-throated Vireo is broadly distributed across the eastern United States from the eastern Great Plains, where its distribution often follows major river valleys, south to central Texas and east to the Atlantic coast. To the north, it can be found in scattered localities in southern Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec. Sparsely distributed through its summer range; east-central Minnesota is one of the few areas where breeding densities are a little higher (Figure 1).
Assigned a Continental Concern Score of 9/20 by Partners in Flight.
A long-distance migrant that winters in Central America and northern South America.
Primarily an insectivore that gleans the foliage and bark of tree canopies.
A tightly woven open-cup nest bound together with caterpillar silk and spider webs and placed in the canopy of deciduous trees.
In Minnesota, Roberts (1932) considered the vireo a common summer resident south and west of the northern boreal forest region, “its range extending northward through the Red River Valley in decreasing numbers as far as southern Manitoba.” A nesting record near Onamia, in Mille Lacs County (an adult feeding young), suggested to him that the species’ range might eventually extend farther into northeastern Minnesota. As younger, deciduous forests replaced the old-growth conifers that were harvested in the early lumber days, they would create more opportunities for this deciduous-loving species. At the time of his writing, Roberts compiled confirmed nesting records (nests with eggs or young, or adults incubating) from Hennepin, Ramsey, and Wright Counties in east-central Minnesota, and from Mahnomen County in the northwest. Inferred breeding records (nests, or adults feeding young) were available from Isanti, Sherburne, and Wasceca Counties and from the Mille Lacs region.
When Green and Janssen (1975) published an updated account of the species, confirmed nesting records were available from 7 additional counties: Pennington, Stearns, Benton, Sherburne, Anoka, Winona, and Houston. Although the species still remained absent from a large area of northeastern and far north-central Minnesota, inferred breeding evidence was now reported as far north as St. Croix State Park in Pine County and Bay Lake in Crow Wing County. There also were summer observations in Duluth.
A few years later, Janssen (1987) provided an updated distribution map for the species that excluded northeastern Minnesota and the adjacent counties of Koochiching and Itasca, and nearly all of southwestern Minnesota and southern portions of the Red River valley. Even though Itasca County was excluded from his map, Janssen noted that the species was continuing to slowly expand northward, as summer observations were reported from Cass and southern Itasca Counties in north-central Minnesota as well as from Kittson, Roseau, and Lake of the Woods Counties in the northwest, and Carlton and southern St. Louis Counties in the east. He delineated 12 counties where nesting had been confirmed since 1970: Anoka, Brown, Carver, Clay, Crow Wing, Goodhue, Morrison, Ramsey, Sherburne, Stearns, Pennington, and Wright. Hertzel and Janssen (1998) later added Grant and Winona Counties.
As they conducted intensive surveys across the state, field staff with the Minnesota Biological Survey (MBS) documented 924 breeding season locations for the Yellow-throated Vireo. In addition to numerous observations in the Eastern Broadleaf Forest and Tallgrass Aspen Parklands Provinces, the species was common throughout counties in the western half of the Laurentian Mixed Forest Province, including from Clearwater, southern Beltrami, and Itasca Counties south to central Minnesota. Two observations were also reported from central St. Louis and central Lake Counties in the Arrowhead region. The species was common along the entire length of the Minnesota River valley, and there were scattered reports in the southwestern corner of the state (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources 2016).
During the MNBBA, observers reported a total of 1,457 Yellow-throated Vireo records from 21.4% (1,014/4,742) of the surveyed atlas blocks and from 29.2% (683/2,337) of the priority blocks. Breeding evidence was gathered from 30 blocks. The birds were observed in all but 7 of Minnesota’s 87 counties: Cook and Lake Counties in the northeast; Wilkin County in the west; and Cottonwood, Jackson, Murray, and Pipestone Counties in the southwest. Confirmed breeding was documented in 19 counties. 3 blocks with confirmed nesting straddled both Scott and Dakota Counties. Fourteen of the counties were additions to the map published by Hertzel and Janssen (1998) and included several northern counties: St. Louis, Carlton, Pine, and Aitkin. Overall, the species’ distribution was very similar to that documented by the MBS, with the exception of even more observations in northeastern Minnesota and observations in regions of north-central Minnesota that had not yet been surveyed by MBS staff.
The MNBBA predicted breeding distribution map depicts low breeding densities throughout western and central Minnesota north as far as southern St. Louis County, Itasca County, and northern Koochiching County (Figure 4). The species’ association with floodplain forests is clear in portions of southeastern and south-central Minnesota and throughout northwestern Minnesota. Moderate breeding densities occur throughout the Mille Lacs Uplands, the Pine Moraines and Outwash Plains, and the Hardwood Hills Subsections. The landscape in these regions is characterized by numerous lakes and wetlands embedded in a matrix of farmland, deciduous forests, and grasslands, a perfect landscape for this semiopen deciduous forest species. Very small pockets of higher breeding densities are found scattered along the Mississippi River south of the Twin Cities and in northwestern Minnesota. Although the model predicts a sparse distribution in southeastern Minnesota, the number of MNBBA records suggest that species is encountered a little more frequently than predicted.
As Roberts (1932) speculated would happen, nearly 100 years ago, the Yellow-throated Vireo has continued to move farther into the Laurentian Mixed Forest Province, spurred by the loss of upland conifer cover and increased landscape fragmentation by residential and recreational development and small farmlands. Today, the species is common along the southern and western border of the province but remains quite rare east and north of southern Itasca County (Figure 2). A similar change has been observed in Michigan, where the species has become more abundant in the northern regions of the Lower Peninsula and in the Upper Peninsula (UP). In the 20 years between the state’s first atlas (1983–1988) and its second atlas (2002–2008), there was a 57% increase in the number of blocks where the species was reported in the UP (Chartier et al. 2013). In Wisconsin, the species was documented breeding across the state during their first atlas (1995-2000). Prior to 1963, however, the Yellow-throated Vireo was largely absent from the states’s northern counties. It is unclear if the atlas documented a northern range extension or the findings simply reflected the lack of survey work conducted in the region prior to 1963 . Elsewhere within its breeding range, there is little evidence of any large-scale change in the species’ breeding distribution apart from small-scale changes due to habitat changes (Rodewald and James 2011).
*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.