Vieillot described a large number of birds for the first time, especially those he encountered during the time he spent in the West Indies and North America, and 26 genera established by him are still in use. He was one of the first ornithologists to study changes in plumage, and also one of the first to study live birds as well as skins.
Vieillot was born in Yvetot. He was in business on the Caribbean island of San Domingo (Haiti), but was forced to flee to the United States during the French Revolution. During his time there he began studying the birds of the country, and collected material for his Histoire naturelle des oiseaux de l'Amérique Septentrionale (1808).
He returned to France in 1800 (or 1801), where he obtained a post as a writer on the Bulletin des Lois. He continued to write on birds, producing Histoire naturelle et générale des colibris, oiseaux-mouches, jacamars et promerops (1802) with illustrations by his friend Jean Baptiste Audebert, followed by Histoire naturelle des plus beaux oiseaux chanteurs de la zone torride (1806).
In Analyse d'une nouvelle Ornithologie Elémentaire (1816) Vieillot set out his system of ornithological classification, which he continued in his contributions to the Nouveau Dictionaire d'Histoire Naturelle (1816-19). In 1820 Vieillot undertook the continuation of the Tableau encyclopédique et méthodique, commenced by Pierre Joseph Bonnaterre in 1790. He went on to write Ornithologie Française (1823-30).
He is believed to have died in poverty in Rouen.
- Histoire naturelle des plus beaux oiseaux chanteurs de la zone torride. Dufour, Paris 1805.
- Histoire naturelle des oiseaux de l'Amérique septentrionale. Desray, Paris 1807-1808.
- Analyse d'une nouvelle ornithologie élémentaire. d'Éterville, Paris 1816.
- Mémoire pour servir à l'histoire des oiseaux d'Europe. Turin 1816.
- Ornithologie. Lanoe, Paris 1818.
- Faune française ou Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière des animaux qui se trouvent en France. Le Vrault & Rapet, Paris, Strasbourg, Bruxelles, 1820-1830.
- La galerie des oiseaux du cabinet d'histoire naturelle du jardin du roi. Aillard & Constant-Chantpie, Paris 1822-1825.
- Ornithologie française ou Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière des oiseaux de France. Pelicier, Paris 1830.
- Gallica All the plates for La galerie des oiseaux—The French word for Search is Recherche