Though many flycatchers are unremarkably plain and drab, the vermilion flycatcher is the most colorful flycatcher in North America. The males are unmistakable with their brilliant red plumage, and even the females have strong washes of color that make them stand out. Learning more facts about this member of the Tyrannidae bird family can help all birders better appreciate just how outstanding these brilliant birds can be.
- Scientific Name: Pyrocephalus rubinus
- Common Name: Vermilion Flycatcher
- Lifespan: 4-5 years
- Size: 6 inches
- Weight: .4-.5 ounces
- Wingspan: 9.5-10 inches
- Conservation Status: Least concern
Vermilion Flycatcher Identification
The bright color of the vermilion flycatcher's plumage makes this bird easy to identify, but there are more field marks and traits that birders should notice to feel confident about these birds. Vermilion flycatchers have a small, relatively indistinct crest, but it will stand out and fluff up more when the birds are agitated. Males have a bright red head and underparts with a thick dark chocolate brown eye line or straight mask that connects to the brown nape, back, wings, and tail. The lores are also dark, and the undertail coverts are bright red. In bright light, males may appear almost glowing or fluorescent.
Females are a lighter brown on the head and back, with slightly darker wings and tail. The chin and throat are white, and the white chest has blurred buff or brownish streaking. Females may show a faint white eyebrow and a buff wash on the lower abdomen that becomes yellow or pinkish on the undertail coverts, but they lack the bright red coloration that is so distinctive on males.
Juveniles look similar to adult females at first but are paler overall. Young males gradually darken on the upperparts and have a mottled red-and-yellowish underside until they fully molt to their adult coloration.
Vermilion flycatchers have a high, rapid “pip-pip-pip-pip” song that lasts roughly 10 syllables and increases in tempo at the end. They also have a sharp, “peeeent” trill call.
Vermilion Flycatcher Habitat and Distribution
Vermilion flycatchers prefer open arid or semiarid habitats with scattered brushy growth, and they are frequently found near riparian areas in these dry climates, including near artificial water sources such as irrigation ditches and water treatment facilities. These birds are found year-round in Mexico and South America as far south as Argentina, while summer populations may stray into southern Arizona, New Mexico, southeastern California, and Texas.
In the winter, northern vermilion flycatcher populations migrate to the Gulf Coast of Mexico and to interior regions of South America, primarily in Brazil.
Vagrant sightings are often recorded far outside this bird's expected range, including as far north as Washington, Oregon, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Ontario. Many vagrant birds are also seen in Florida and along the Gulf Coast, and it is possible the birds' range is slowly expanding to include those areas. Wherever these birds appear, particularly males, they generate intense interest because of their spectacular plumage.
These are tame birds but generally remain solitary or in pairs. They perch low in shrubs and small trees, dipping their tails distinctively, and they often return to the same perch over and over, which can give birders great viewing and photography opportunities.
Diet and Feeding
These are insectivorous birds and they eat a wide range of different insects, including both flying insects as well as caterpillars, spiders, and grubs. While foraging, they perch in an open area and watch for insects, which they then hover to catch a bite before returning to a favorite perch.
Vermilion flycatchers are monogamous. The nest is a small cup made of twigs, grass, weeds, rootlets, and other fine material, lined with feathers and down and often bound together with hair or spider webs. Some nests are even decorated with lichen for camouflage. Nests are positioned 5-50 feet above the ground.
Eggs and Young
The female vermilion flycatcher parent will incubate a brood of 2-4 oval-shaped eggs for 13-15 days. The eggs are white with bold spotting that may be brown, gray, or purplish. After hatching, both parents work to feed the helpless chicks for an additional 14-16 days until the fledglings are ready to leave the nest. A mated pair of vermilion flycatchers can raise 2 broods per year.
These flycatchers occasionally host cowbird brood parasites but it does not largely impact their breeding success.
Vermilion Flycatcher Conservation
While these flycatchers are not considered threatened or endangered, overuse of pesticides can dramatically reduce their available food supplies. In Texas and southeastern California, populations are slowly decreasing.
Preserving habitat and minimizing pesticide contamination is vital to slow population loss and ensure the continued success of these birds.
Tips for Backyard Birders
These birds do not regularly visit backyard feeders, but they will come to yards that offer a water source such as a pond or birdbath, especially if the water is a moving dripper or fountain to catch their attention. Birders who plant shrubs and low trees will give vermilion flycatchers a place to perch, and avoiding pesticide and insecticide sprays will give the birds a ready food source. Preserving spider webs will also help give these birds nesting material to entice them to stay nearby.
How to Find This Bird
Vermilion flycatchers are easy to spot because they tend to perch in the open and their brilliant plumage is very visible, even from a distance. Birders can spot these birds returning to favorite perches over and over, often dropping to the ground as they forage.
Explore More Species in This Family
The Tyrannidae bird family is one of the largest bird families, with 450 different species including flycatchers, spadebills, tyrannulets, flatbills, elaenias, kingbirds, and pewees. Birds that are similar to the vermilion flycatcher and its close relatives include:
- Eastern Phoebe
Discover even more amazing birds with all our wild bird profiles and fact sheets, and you just might find more birds you enjoy and more birds to learn about. And if it's the color you enjoy, don't miss the photo gallery of the world's reddest birds!
"Vermilion Flycatcher Life History". All About Birds, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Vermilion_Flycatcher/lifehistory.