My May continues to disappoint, but I did get my first of season Red-eyed Vireos this week.

Red-eyed Vireos are the most common bird that most non-birders have never seen or heard of. Despite being abundant in second-growth deciduous forests and parks (which is something that’s very profitable for a bird in the eastern U.S. to be), it seems to live by the rule that no publicity is good publicity. It does not visit feeders and frolic for the amusement of the crowd like some jovial Titmouse. Preferring forest interiors, arriving in mid-spring and leaving again before the foliage drops, it spends most of its life cunningly disguised as a leaf. Its song is frequent and persistent, but the source is unlikely to be tracked, being a drab olive bird high in the canopy. Unlike “Warbler” or “Thrush” or “Heron”, “Vireo” doesn’t even conjure up any particular mental picture except in the field guide set. (Red-eyed is at least nicely descriptive. Who the heck would know what a Bell’s Vireo was if it went into the witness protection program?)

Perhaps it is just as well, or at least no harm. After all, everyone knew what the last most common bird of the eastern woods looked like – and how it tasted, too, until there weren’t any more of them. But it’s sometimes disconcerting to consider how different my mental landscape is from the millions of people who walk around every day with Red-eyed Vireos overhead, all unknowing.

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