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Black-capped Vireo

Vireo atricapilla

The Black-capped Vireo, Vireo atricapilla, is a diminutive songbird, measuring approximately 12 cm (4.5 inches) from beak to tail. The males, resplendent in their breeding plumage, boast an olive green back contrasting with a starkly black crown and upper head, complemented by a white underbelly with subtle yellow flanks. A distinctive partial white eye ring and lores accentuate their brownish-red irises, while their bills gleam black. Females, however, present a more subdued palette, with a slate-gray crown and a greenish-yellow wash on their underparts. Juvenile males often resemble adult females, with a more extensive gray in their cap.

Identification Tips

To identify the Black-capped Vireo, look for the male's black cap and the white eye ring that stands out against its olive-green upperparts. The females and young males can be trickier to distinguish, but their gray caps and less vibrant coloring are key indicators. Both sexes have a compact and svelte body shape typical of the vireo family.

Habitat

The Black-capped Vireo favors "shinneries," which are brushy areas dotted with shin oak or sumac. These habitats provide the dense foliage necessary for nesting, extending right to the ground level, which is crucial for the species' reproductive success.

Distribution

Once found from south-central Kansas through to central Coahuila, Mexico, the Black-capped Vireo's range has contracted. It now breeds from Oklahoma through Texas's Edwards Plateau and Big Bend National Park to central Coahuila, and as far south as southwestern Tamaulipas. During the winter months, it migrates to the western coast of Mexico, from southern Sonora to Guerrero.

Behaviour

The Black-capped Vireo exhibits a fascinating breeding behavior. Both sexes contribute to nest building and incubation, with the female laying three to four eggs. Post-hatching, the female broods the young while the male predominantly forages for food. Remarkably, pairs may produce multiple clutches per season, with the male tending to the fledglings from the first brood as the female prepares for the next, sometimes with a different mate.

Breeding

Nests are carefully constructed between 15 and 50 inches above the ground, concealed by foliage. The breeding sites are often on steep slopes with clumped trees or in level terrains with a mix of shrubs and smaller trees. The Black-capped Vireo's breeding success is closely tied to the specific structure of its habitat.

Diet and Feeding

An insectivorous bird, the Black-capped Vireo's diet is rich in beetles and caterpillars. During the nestling phase, the male plays a crucial role in provisioning the young with these essential food sources.

Conservation status

The Black-capped Vireo has faced significant threats from brood parasitism by the Brown-headed Cowbird, habitat loss due to urbanization, and changes in land use such as fire exclusion, livestock grazing, and brush control. Listed as an endangered species in 1987, concerted conservation efforts have led to its delisting in 2018. However, with a population between 10,000 and 19,999 individuals, it remains classified as "Near Threatened" by the IUCN and continues to be managed by conservation bodies in Texas and Oklahoma.

Black-capped Vireo Sounds

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