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Vermilion Flycatcher Life History



In all seasons, the Vermilion Flycatcher can be found in any open country in the American Southwest, including arid scrublands, farmlands, deserts, parks, and canyon mouths. They are especially reliant on stream corridors within the scrub ecosystem, in areas where willow, sycamore, cottonwood, mesquite, and other bottomland trees grow. South of the U.S. they occur in similar open, shrubby country in tropical lowlands and to as high as 10,000 feet elevation.

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Vermilion Flycatchers eat mostly flying insects. They capture insects on the wing by flying suddenly out from an exposed perch. These foraging flights are often short and direct, and often involve a swift swoop that takes them in a looping circle out and back to the same perch. Typically feeds within about 10 feet of the ground. Carries larger prey such as grasshoppers and butterflies back to the perch, whacks them against the perch to subdue and soften them before eating. Other prey include honeybees, beetles, and crickets.

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Nest Placement


Typically nests in trees along stream corridors. The nest is placed in an inconspicuous fork along a horizontal branch that is free of leaves, between about 8 and 20 feet off the ground.

Nest Description

A shallow, somewhat loosely constructed cup of small twigs, grasses and empty cocoons bound together with spiderweb. It is often decorated (camouflaged) with small bits of lichen.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:2-4 eggs
Number of Broods:1-2 broods
Egg Length:0.6-0.8 in (1.6-1.9 cm)
Egg Width:0.4-0.6 in (1.1-1.4 cm)
Incubation Period:13-15 days
Nestling Period:14-16 days
Egg Description:White or creamy, with bold dark blotches and small lighter spots.
Condition at Hatching:Helpless with sparse whitish down, back skin blackish.
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Males aggressively guard their territory from other Vermilion Flycatchers as well as other birds using a warning posture with tail and crest erect. While on territory, males perform an elaborate flight display to attract females in which they rise 60–100 feet above surrounding vegetation, alternately gliding and flapping with shallow wingbeats while singing a twittering flight song. If interested, the female then joins the male as they inspect potential nest sites, often with the male bringing insects to the female. Pairs are socially monogamous, though mating outside the pair (extra-pair copulation) is not uncommon. The female incubates the eggs while the male brings food, and both parents feed the chicks. When not breeding, Vermilion Flycatchers are typically solitary birds, though small flocks of males may form in the winter.

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Low Concern

Vermilion Flycatchers are common in most of their range. In the small portion of their range that includes the U.S., numbers have been roughly stable between 1969 and 2015, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 15 million birds and rates the species a 5 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a low level of concern. A 2016 report estimated the U.S. breeding population at 560,000. Like many desert species, Vermilion Flycatchers are sensitive to impacts from human water use and land development, which have contributed to local declines in the lower Colorado River Valley. In other parts of its range, habitat destruction may be a threat. Excessive groundwater pumping can damage the desert riparian habitats that this and other desert species rely on.

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Ellison, Kevin, Blair O. Wolf and Stephanie L. Jones. (2009). Vermilion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

Partners in Flight (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

Rosenberg, K. V., J. A. Kennedy, R. Dettmers, R. P. Ford, D. Reynolds, J. D. Alexander, C. J. Beardmore, P. J. Blancher, R. E. Bogart, G. S. Butcher, A. F. Camfield, A. Couturier, D. W. Demarest, W. E. Easton, J. J. Giocomo, R. H. Keller, A. E. Mini, A. O. Panjabi, D. N. Pashley, T. D. Rich, J. M Ruth, H. Stabins, J. Stanton, and T. Will (2016). Partners in Flight Landbird Conservation Plan: 2016 Revision of Canada and Continental United States. Partners in Flight Science Committee.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2017). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2015. Version 2.07.2017. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

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