Vermilion flycatcher is a showstopper - Albuquerque Journal

Vermilion flycatcher is a showstopper

Illustration by Cathryn Cunningham/Journal

The gorgeous vermilion flycatcher is one of my favorite birds and I never tire of looking at it.

This little 6-inch flycatcher is a showstopper. It has a brilliant red head and chest, with a dark back and dark eye stripe.

The vermilion flycatchers’ genus name is Pyrocephalus which translates to “fire-headed.” The female is not as showy and has more subtle coloration, including a cream-colored breast, light brown back and pinkish belly.

This flycatcher is common throughout Central and South America, and its summer nesting range does enter parts of the southwestern U.S., including southern to central New Mexico.

One of the best places to view this attractive flycatcher is at Percha Dam and Caballo Lake state parks, south of Truth or Consequences.

I have seen the vermilion flycatcher as far north as Socorro.

The vermilion flycatcher prefers scrubby desert areas and grassy meadows with a mix of trees near streams or rivers. This desert riparian habitat provides the needed insects this flycatcher relies on.

All flycatchers, including the vermilion have extraordinary vision which enables them, while in flight, to track and grab fast-moving insects in mid-air. All birds process images more than twice as fast as humans, and flycatchers are the fastest processing of any birds tested.

Vermilion flycatchers sit on exposed branches and swoop out to grab insects in mid-air, often returning to the same perch to consume their prey. This behavior of returning to the same perch makes viewing flycatchers somewhat easier than many other birds.

The vermilion flycatchers’ foods include small flying insects, as well as larger prey like butterflies, honey bees, beetles and grasshoppers.

During spring and summer nesting season the male vermilion flycatcher puts on quite an elaborate flight display to attract the attention of a nearby female.

The male flaps its wings and glides up to 60-to-100-feet in the air while singing. During courtship the male will often bring a colorful insect, like a butterfly, as a gift to the female.

The male aggressively defends the nesting territory from other males and predators. Vermilion flycatchers nest up to 10,000 feet in elevation.

This flycatcher depends on somewhat fragile desert riparian habitat for its survival. Human development, which includes water use, can negatively affect this type of habitat. Fortunately, the vermilion flycatcher is common in its range and currently has a stable population.

Mary Schmauss is the owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Albuquerque. A lifelong birder and author of “For the Birds: A Month-by-Month Guide to Attracting Birds to your Backyard.”

 


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