This gray 5-inch songbird occurs throughout New Mexico, except for the eastern plains, favoring open pine and mixed forests, where it searches for insects in the upper parts of the forest canopy. In winter, fruits and berries substitute in the diet for the missing invertebrates. In prairie lands these vireos travel along stream courses where trees occur.
The distinctive white eye ring, white wing bars and a white belly are notable characteristics in the otherwise dull appearance. The white eye rings are sometimes referred to as “spectacles” due to the white stripe extending from the front of the eye ring to the base of the beak, an area of the face called the “lores.” The upper bill also has a curved point at the end that can be seen on close observation. The song is a short sequence of raspy whistles, repeated at about two second intervals, reminiscent of the yellow-throated vireo of the eastern U.S.
Current breeding range covers much of New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Arizona, as well as the southeastern part of Nevada and extending down the Sierra mountain chain into Mexico. They also are found in the Black Hills of South Dakota. In winter these vireos migrate to southern parts of the range in Mexico and southern Arizona, congregating in mixed flocks with other species. This is a common species in the Cibola National Forest and I normally observe one or two on any given hiking day in the spring and summer.
Nests are constructed in forks of trees and consist of a wide variety of plant materials, including mosses and lichens. The 3-5 eggs are incubated for about two weeks and fledge after another couple of weeks. This is another species that suffers nest parasitism by the brown-headed cowbird.
The Audubon Society reports that the Plumbeous vireo population is currently stable and the breeding range is expected to shift northward as the climate warms.