Vermilion Flycatcher


Male Vermilion Flycatcher, Mazatlan, Mexico

The Vermilion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus) is a small tyrant flycatcher in the family, Tyrannidae. Vermilion Flycatchers have a huge range in the New World, being found as far south as central Argentina and covering much of South and Central America. Across this vast range, there are at least 12 sub-species of Vermilion Flycatcher recognized by ornithologists, including one race on the Galapagos Islands that some regard as a separate species. In the United States, Vermilion Flycatchers are mostly limited to the desert southwest, where their range extends as far north as southern Nevada. Their California range includes much of the Mojave Desert, in San Bernardino County, across most of Riverside and Imperial Counties and across into Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties. In coastal California, they are less common and more likely found as winter visitors, though there are indications that their breeding range is expanding towards the coast. Here, Vermilion Flycatchers often use edge habitat like golf courses and athletic fields.


Female Vermilion Flycatcher at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary

Identification of Vermilion Flycatchers is fairly straight forward, particularly adult males, whose brilliant red crown, chest and belly contrasting with black face mask, nape and upper parts, is unmistakable. Female Vermilion Flycatchers are more subtly colored, being a grayish brown above with a white throat and upper chest. The face pattern can show a darker cheek patch (auriculars) and lores beneath a prominently white supercilium, or they can be quite a bit more subdued. The belly coloration varies from orange-yellow to almost a salmon color, with indistinct vertical streaking on the upper chest. The only possible ID confusion would be with the larger and darker Say’s Phoebe (Sayornis saya), but that species has a grayish throat and a distinctly pumpkin shade to the lower belly coloration.

Vermilion Flycatchers are classic sally-hunting insectivores, usually sitting right out in the open on whatever perch they are using. They often use chain-link fence or small trees at the edge of open areas to hunt from, returning to the same perch after each brief flight. The smaller size of the Vermilion Flycatcher translates into great maneuverability, and often the hunting flights can be spectacularly acrobatic, so they are great fun to watch. Currently, Vermilion Flycatchers are considered a species of “least concern” by conservationists. This female Vermilion Flycatcher was found in November at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary, in Irvine, California. The photos and video were taken with a point-and-shoot digital camera attached to a Kowa TSN-883 spotting scope with a Kowa TE-11WZ 25-60x Zoom Eyepiece using  Sayegh Digidapter for Kowa TE-10Z and TE-11WZ.

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