GCBO's September Bird of the Month
Vermillion Flycatcher
by Mike Williams
The Vermillion Flycatcher, (Pyrocephalus rubinus - which translates as Fire Headed), was once a rare visitor to the Southern US states from Mexico and Central America. Its range has expanded Northwards significantly over the past 20 years and it is now a reasonably common sight. It is a resident breeder from South West Texas to California and a regular Winter visitor to all the Gulf Coast states into the Florida panhandle. 

In the United States, 2 of 12 recognized subspecies occur, (the Texas one being slightly darker than those found further West). It should be noted that the Vermillion Flycatchers found in South America have significant DNA differences and this species is currently under review with a suggestion that it is actually 4 different species!
Typical habitats are variable from lightly wooded areas to desert scrub and arable land but almost always close to water, due to preferred food supply. The latter is variable and includes crickets, locust, butterflies, beetles, bees and termites. Typically, it scans from a low perch and sallies forth in typical flycatcher style to catch its prey in mid-air. 

Nests are typically in branches relatively low to the ground, (10 feet and upwards), into which 2-4 white eggs are laid. The nest itself is a shallow cup of twigs and grass lined with down. Incubation lasts 15 days and is carried out by the female. Vermillion Flycatchers often have 2 broods per year.
They are often very vocal with repeated "pit-pitasee" song. Its call is a short pitz often given in flight.

Male Vermillion flycatchers are unmistakable, small and stocky with gray-brown upperparts and a bright red crown, face and underparts. The face is bisected by a thick postocular gray-brown stripe which runs into the nape.
The female is quite different but no less striking. The female upperparts are similar to the male with the underparts being primarily white with a gray-brown streaking. The lower underparts and undertail coverts are orange pink. First year birds are like the female with the males becoming blotchy red until under adulthood is achieved. Behavior is very typical of flycatchers including often bobbing and flicking its tail.

Interesting Facts:

  • A group of flycatchers is called an outfield, a swatting, a zapper or a zipper.
  • First described by a Dutch biologist Pieter Boddaert in 1783, alternative names include Galapagos or Darwin’s Flycatcher.
  • Males often present females with gifts of food prior to mating.
  • They are often kept as cage birds in Central and South America but their color always fades in captivity.
  • Life expectancy is quite short – the oldest on record being only 4 ½ years old.

To download Mike Williams's photo of this cool bird, click HERE

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