A practical guide to bird watching in Sonoma County, California

(Unless otherwise indicated, all phone numbers are in the 707 area code)


A common resident in Sonoma County's oak woodlands. Particularly fond of our evergreen oaks. Present year-round and throughout the county except the extreme south, near San Pablo Bay.

Prominent eyering, incomplete above the eye; pale area in front of the eye (although this may be hard to see in the field); overall, a drab olive color above, slightly paler and yellowish below; two white wing bars, the lower of the two being the longer and more prominent; a light, pointed, black bill with a tiny hook; dark grey to bluish legs. Seeks out small insects in wooded environments, foraging energetically--although less frenetically than Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula), with which it's frequently confused (see below).

Compared with Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Hutton's Vireo is a little bigger and has a more elongated look. Ruby-crowned Kinglet is a rather plump little bird with a proportionately short tail that adds to an impression of compactness. Hutton's Vireo has a sharp bill with a tiny hook on the end, Ruby-crowned Kinglet has a significantly more slender bill lacking the hook (although the hook may be very hard to see in the field). Ruby-crowned Kinglet has two white wing bars, like Hutton's Vireo, but also a dark bar beneath the lower wing bar lacking in the vireo and a fine greenish-gold striping on the wings and tail usually not so prominent in the vireo. The vireo has a pale area in front of the eye, which is subtle, but not present in the kinglet, which (as its name suggests) has a patch of red feathers on its crown that Hutton's Vireo lacks (note, however, that the kinglet rarely shows its crown, so lack of visible red on top of the head alone does not rule out Ruby-crowned Kinglet). The vireo's legs are somewhat heavier and paler in color than those of the kinglet, which has notably skinny, usually black legs. The feet of the kinglet are often notably browner than the rest of its legs, sometimes markedly paler and yellower, a feature not present in the vireo. Behaviorally, the kinglet is a much more nervous bird--constantly flitting from place to place, flicking its wings. Hutton's Vireo flits about, looking for insects, but rather more deliberately than the kinglet. Vocalizations are quite different. Ruby-crowned Kinglet is frequently detected before it's sighted by its chattering, which is often likened to the clatter of an old-fashioned typewriter (see links below). One trick that seems to work fairly consistently is to remember that on Hutton's Vireo, the darkest part of the wing will be the area between the wing bars; in Ruby-crowned Kinglet, the darkest part of the wing will be below the lower wing bar--although it's best to take all available indicators together to make an ID, rather than to rely on one.

Superficially resembles Pacific-slope Flycatcher (Empidonax difficilis), but that bird is larger and has the typical alert, upright look of a flycatcher, has a pale orange lower mandible, a broad-based bill, and has a slightly crested look. It behaves like a flycatcher--perching, flying out to catch an insect, and then perching again, often in the same spot--rather than hopping around in trees foraging (note, however, that the kinglet and vireo may occasionally flycatch).

Further reading:

Bolander and Parmeter, Birds of Sonoma County California, rev. ed., 2000, p. 86

Brinkley, National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2007, p. 333

Burridge, ed., Sonoma County Breeding Bird Atlas, 1995, p. 142

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 5th ed., 2006, p. 316

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 6th ed., 2011, p. 354

Dunne, Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion, 2006, pp. 431-432

Ehrlich, Dobkin, and Wheye, The Birder's Handbook, paperback edition, 1988, p. 492

Fix and Bezener, Birds of Northern California, 2000, p. 257

Floyd, Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 2008, p. 307

Kaufman, Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2000, p. 296

Kaufman, Field Guide to Advanced Birding, 2011, pp. 95, 348

Lukas, Bay Area Birds: From Sonoma County to Monterey Bay, 2012, pp. 186-187, 204, 223

Parmeter and Wight, Birds of Sonoma County California, Update (2000-2010), 2012, p. 51

Peterson, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America, 4th ed., 2010, p. 258

Peterson, Western Birds, 3rd ed., 1990,  p. 284

Sibley, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America,1st ed., 2003, p. 297

Stokes, Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 1st ed., 2010, p. 492

Vuilleumier, American Museum of Natural History, Birds of North America: Western Region, 2011, p. 269

Voice: Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds--Hutton's Vireo

Voice: Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds--Ruby-crowned Kinglet



© Colin Talcroft, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013

Unless noted, all photos by the author. If you would like to use one of my images, please ask for permission for non-commercial use with proper credit or commercial use with proper compensation.


For comparison: Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Spring Lake, Santa Rosa, January 21, 2012

Note compact shape; short tail; dark bar below second white wing bar, fine greenish-gold striping on wings, lack of tiny hook on tip of needle-like bill, spindly legs, yellowish tinge to feet.

Hutton's Vireo: Place to Play Park, Santa Rosa, October 19, 2011

For comparison: Pacific-slope flycatcher. Note alert, upright posture; broad-based, flat bill; orange lower mandible; slightly crested look

This pair of photos illustrates why Hutton's Vireo and Ruby-crown Kinglet can be easy to confuse. The kinglet (on the right) is of an unusually pale color--much less olive than a typical bird. From this angle--with the wings out of view and the length of the tail difficult to judge, it's hard to distinguish the two birds. Behavior, voice, and the yellowish feet would provide the best clues in this situation  

Hutton's Vireo

Vireo huttoni

1990-2013 Sonoma County data. Graph provided by eBird (www.ebird.org), generated July 10, 2013

EBird reported occurrence in Sonoma County