Vermilion Flycatcher

Pyrocephalus rubinus

  • Version: 2.0 — Published August 5, 2009
  • Kevin Ellison, Blair O. Wolf, and Stephanie L. Jones

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Figure 1. Distribution of the Vermilion Flycatcher in the USA and Middle America.

This species winters north and east locally of the distribution shown. It also breeds in South America -- see Distribution and Systematics for details.

Adult Male Vermilion Flycatcher, South Llano River SP, TX, June

The following link is to this contributor's Flickr stream or website., Jun 14, 2009; photographer William and Hannah Meddaugh

Female Vermilion Flycatcher, Tucson, AZ, February

The following link is to this contributor's Flickr stream or website., Feb 27, 2009; photographer Joan Gellatly

Among the most spectacular of North American flycatchers, both in coloration and in courtship display, the Vermilion Flycatcher is a common breeder in southern Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas (Figure 1). Males and females differ markedly in color; the male's vermilion crest and brilliant underparts contrast sharply with the whitish, lightly streaked breast and pinkish belly colors of the female. This flycatcher's global range extends nearly 7.1 million km2 -- from the southwestern United States through Mexico, Central America, and south into Argentina, Ecuador, and Peru. North American breeders winter from southernmost portions of the U.S. breeding range south through Mexico and Central America.

A sit-and-wait predator, this flycatcher forages from an exposed perch and takes a variety of aerial and terrestrial arthropods including butterflies, grasshoppers, beetles, termites, and spiders. In Arizona, Vermilion Flycatchers breed in desert riparian areas where mesquites, willows, and cottonwoods line dry washes or perennial streams. In Texas and New Mexico, the species occupies similar habitats, but also open parklands with widely spaced oaks and junipers. Dependence on desert riparian communities in the arid southwest makes this flycatcher particularly vulnerable to degradation of these habitats by wood-cutting, channelization, cattle grazing, and groundwater pumping.

During the breeding season, male Vermilion Flycatchers perform a spectacular flight song 20–30 m above the canopy, appearing to bounce across the sky on fluttering wings while singing. Nests are loosely constructed and typically placed in the horizontal fork of a mesquite or cottonwood tree. Females incubate their clutch of 2–4 eggs for about 14 days; during incubation males regularly feed females at the nest. Pairs raise 1-2 broods/season and pairs generally renest immediately after fledging their first brood.

Despite the Vermilion Flycatcher's conspicuousness, facets of its biology remain poorly known. Key studies of this species include Carothers 1974, which focused on foraging ecology, daily time budget, and behavioral ecology of males in mesquite and cottonwood habitats, with less attention to breeding. Earlier work by Taylor and Hanson (Taylor and Hanson 1970) provided additional information on reproductive biology and behavior. Displays and vocalizations of males were studied by Smith (Smith 1966e, Smith 1967f, Smith 1970e) and, more recently in central Mexico, by Ríos-Chelén and García (Ríos-Chelén and Macias-García 2004) (Ríos-Chelén and Garcia 2007.) (Ríos-Chelén et al. 2008).

Recommended Citation

Ellison, K., B. O. Wolf, and S. L. Jones (2009). Vermilion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.