The Vermilion Flycatcher
Even for the most novice bird spotters, the Vermilion Flycatcher definitely can’t go unnoticed – the small bird (15cm long) with a brilliant red head is quite unmistakable.
These colourings are unique to the male of the species, and coupled with its courtship behaviour, make it truly unique.
The head, underside and bushy-crested crown are a brilliant scarlet colour contrasting strongly with the black eye stripe, beak and legs, and the sooty-black to blackish-brown back, wings and tail.
The Vermilion Flycatcher’s Latin name, Pyrocephalus Rubinus, translates into English as “red fire-head.” But in Mexico it goes by a different name, Brasita de Fuego, “little coal of fire.”
The female has a very different appearance, with a pale, greyish-brown head, back and wings, a blackish tail, and a whitish throat and under side. Young males often resemble the adult females until they are ready for courtship.
The male Vermilion Flycatcher is known for performing a spectacular display flight during the breeding season, which usually takes place between March and July in many parts of Mexico. Fluffing out his feathers and raising his red crested head high, he flies furiously up into the air for about 30 meters, hovers for a moment and then drops down to his perch, all whilst performing a musical song.
The male often seeks to initiate the copulation phase by delivering a butterfly or other showy insect to the female. Which can perhaps be looked upon as an engagement ring as these birds are monogamous.
Nesting comprises of a simple bowl shape of twigs, grass and roots in the horizontal fork of a tree, held together by spiders-webs and lined with feathers and hair. Two or three eggs will be laid and then incubated for up to 15 days before they hatch, the young soon begin to get strong and swiftly leave. This quick turnaround of offspring allows the birds to have up to two broods per year and doubles your chances of seeing their spectacular mating display.
The Vermilion Flycatchers nest is sometimes known to be parasitized by others, in particular by the cowbird. These cheeky birds use the flycatcher as hosts to raise their young.
All the child rearing and mating can make for hungry work, and as the name suggests, the vermilion flycatcher eats plenty of insects, including flies, butterflies, grasshoppers, beetles, termites, bees and spiders which they usually catch in mid-air. Sitting on an exposed perch the flycatcher drops through the air out to snatch at passing prey or take it from the ground. Anything that can’t be digested will be coughed up later as pellets like an owl.
To find these insects the flycatchers can inhabit a variety of terrain including woodland, arid desert, scrub and farmland, but naturally like to be near water for a more enticing spot of lunch.
The Vermillion Flycatcher will generally remain solitary or in pairs, yet surprisingly there are many collective nouns for them, including an “outfield”, “swatting”, “zapper”, or “zipper” of flycatchers. Happy spotting.