Mistaking a Kinglet for a Vireo: A Spectacle Out of Spectacles

Mistaking the Ruby-crowned Kinglet for the Blue-headed Vireo: Let’s Make a Spectacle Out of Spectacles

I’m acting on a hunch here, but I am pretty confident that many beginner birders unfamiliar with the Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Blue-headed Vireo have, at some point, mistaken one for the other.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Image Credit: Animal Perspectives.

C’mon, raise your hand if you’re guilty. *Raises Hand* Gasp! Yes, I’ve mis-ID’d these birds once before and I’ve also seen a social media post fly south about this specific mis-ID. It was auk-ward.

Blue-headed Vireo

Blue-headed Vireo. Image Credit: Animal Perspectives.

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It wasn’t until I photographed a Blue-headed Vireo and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet in the same row of evergreens that I realized how easy it is to mistake one for the other and how easy it is to address this common mis-ID.

So, for those reasons, I think that it’s worth spending a little time on what is (in my humble opinion) the most glaring difference between the two — the spectacles!

Kinglet vs. Vireo

If you’re thinking, What about the “ruby-crown” on the Kinglet? Not so fast. The ruby-crown (or crest) on the Kinglet is unlike the very visible golden-crown on its cousin, the Golden-crowned Kinglet.


Golden-crowned Kinglet. Image Credit: Animal Perspectives.

The ruby-colored crown on the Ruby-crowned Kinglet is, for the most part, inconspicuous — unless the bird is excited or agitated. So it remains tucked away.

The Blue-headed Vireo and the Ruby-crowned Kinglet are similarly clad in blue, white, and greenish body feathers and both have white eye-rings.

In addition to similar looking plumage, these two species often flock together and have similar foraging habitats — no wonder this bird is misidentified!

A Spectacle About Spectacles

Spectacles, on a bird, look just like the name suggests — spectacles. Just like the bridge that joins the left and right lenses on the spectacles I am wearing as I write this, a similarly colored supraloral stripe bridges the left and right eye-rings on a bird.

In other words, it’s a feathered frame.

In the images below, the two birds are in similar postures. This illustrates the confusion between the two.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Image Credit: Animal Perspectives.

Notice how obvious the spectacles and clearly defined the eye-ring on the Blue-headed Vireo appears (below).

Blue-headed Vireo

Blue-headed Vireo. Image Credit: Animal Perspectives.

If you’re not sure if the bird in question has spectacles or not, then the bird is not a Blue-headed Vireo. The spectacles, on a Blue-headed Vireo, are very clearly defined beyond the eye-rings.

The bridge of white supraloral feathers is the key.

Of course, there are many other ways to tell the two apart (e.g., call, size, and beak-shape), but when in doubt remember to make a spectacle of the the spectacles!

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