Technical Report

Least Bell's Vireos and Southwestern Willow Flycatchers at the San Luis Rey Flood Risk Management Project Area in San Diego County, California—Breeding Activities and Habitat Use—2022 Annual Report

Date: 2023/06/29

Author(s): Houston A., Allen L.D., Mendia S.M., Kus B.E.

Publication: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2023–1040, 74 p.


DOI: 10.3133/ofr20231040


We completed four protocol surveys for Least Bell’s Vireos (Vireo bellii pusillus; vireo) during the breeding season, supplemented by weekly territory monitoring visits. We identified a total of 133 territorial male vireos; 114 were confirmed as paired, and 3 were confirmed as single males. For the remaining 16 territories, we were unable to confirm breeding status. Two transient vireos were detected in 2022. The vireo population in the Project Area increased by 9 percent from 2021 to 2022. The vireo population at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton also increased (4 percent), whereas the population at Marine Corps Air Station remained relatively stable (decreased from 10 pairs to 9) and the Otay River population decreased by 10 percent (2 territories).

We used an index of treatment (Treatment Index) to evaluate the effect of on-going vegetation clearing on the Project Area vireo population. The Treatment Index measures the cumulative effect of vegetation treatment within a territory (since 2005) by using the percentage area treated weighted by the number of years since treatment. We determined that the Treatment Index for unoccupied habitat was more than four times that of occupied habitat, indicating that vireos selected habitat that was less treated in which to settle.

We monitored vireo nests at three general site types: (1) within the flood channel where exotic and native vegetation removal has occurred regularly (Channel), (2) three sites near the flood channel where limited exotic and native vegetation removal has occurred (Off-channel), and (3) three sites that have been actively restored by planting native vegetation (Restoration). Nesting activity was monitored in 80 territories, 3 of which were occupied by single males and 1 by a male whose breeding status could not be confirmed. Overall, 38 percent of completed nests were successful and nest success did not differ among the three sites. In 2022, there were no differences with regard to clutch size, hatching, or fledging success among Channel, Off-channel and Restoration sites. Overall breeding success and productivity were slightly higher in 2022 than in 2021, with 72 percent of pairs fledgling at least one young and pairs fledging an average of 2.2±1.7 young.