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 a Mexican marvel!
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.”
Female Vermilion Flycatchers
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.
We celebrate the male Vermilion Flycatcher for his spectacular display flight during the breeding season. This 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 in a furious burst up, up, up into the air for about 30 meters. He hovers for a split second and then drops like a bullet down to his perch. He does this all whilst performing a musical song. Pretty impressive, eh ladies?
Nest Sweet Nest
The nest is a simple bowl shape of twigs, grass and roots the flycatchers carefully construct into the fork of a tree. The nest is woven together using spider-webs as a sort of glue and lined with soft feathers and fur. The female will lay two to three eggs and then sit upon them for up to 15 days before they hatch. The young chicks hatch and soon get strong. Within a few weeks the fledge and swiftly leave. This quick turnaround of offspring allows the birds to have up to two broods per year. This doubles your chances of seeing that spectacular mating display!
Vermilion Flycatcher nests can be raided by cowbirds. These little culprits look nothing like their bovine namesakes, by the way. A cheeky cowbird will swoop in and lay one or two of her own eggs. She’ll fly off leaving the flycatchers to raise the cowbird chick as one of their own.
What’s For Dinner?
All the child rearing and mating can make for hungry work. 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 he will hop over and take it from the ground. He coughs up pellets of the undigestible bits, just like an owl!
To find these insects the flycatchers can inhabit a variety of terrain including woodland, arid desert, scrub and farmland. They like to be near water for a more enticing spot oto collect lunch.
The Vermillion Flycatcher will generally remain solitary or in pairs. Surprisingly there are many collective nouns for them, including an “outfield”, “swatting”, “zapper”, or “zipper” of flycatchers. Happy spotting.