Pyrocephalus rubinusvermilion flycatcher

Geographic Range

The Vermillion Flycatcher's range extends from the southwestern United States down through Mexico, Central America, and as far south as Argentina (Wolf and Jones 2000).


The Vermillion flycatcher prefers open habitats such as arid scrubland, farmland, desert, savannah, cultivated lands, and riparian woodland settings. Specifically, their nests can be found in willows (Salix spp.), oaks (Quercus spp.), cottonwoods (Populus spp.), mesquites (Prosopis spp.), and sycamores (Platanus spp.) lining streams. However they are not found in areas with a dense canopy of Fremont cottonwood (Populus fremontii) and mesquite understory (Carothers 1974).

  • Range elevation
    0 to 3000 m
    0.00 to 9842.52 ft

Physical Description

Vermillion flycatcher adult males are a bright scarlet or "vermilllion" color on the top of their head and on underparts. They have a dark-brown mask that covers the face, ear-coverts, and nape of neck. The top of the wings and the tail are also blackish-brown.

Adult females are grayish-brown on the top of their head, ear-coverts, and wings and tail. They are darkest at the tail and they have a superciliary grayish-white stripe on their face. Their underparts are whitish but become pale red. Their breast is streaked with gray, as well as their sides (Wolf and Jones 2000).

Immature females are similar to the adult female except that they have yellowish posterior underparts. Immature males look similiar to adult females during the summer of the second calendar year, but their underparts are salmon pink or pale-orange red in color (Wolf and Jones 2000).

  • Range mass
    11 to 14 g
    0.39 to 0.49 oz
  • Average length
    13-14 cm


These birds are monogamous. The nest site is chosen based on the Nest-Site-Showing Display of the male. He flies around to potential nesting sites and gives a soliciting call to the nearby females, encouraging them to take a look. They fly to each site, crouch, and make nest forming movementd while letting out a chatter call. They also flutter their wings during this display. The chosen nest site by the female is usually within 205 m of the male's preferred nest site. The female will often ignore the displaying male, but when she decides to accept, she and the male will land at different potential nest sites in a crouching position. They will display side by side. The male will retreat when he observes that the female is starting the nest construction. The construction begins almost immediately after the female chooses the site (Carothers 1974).

Vermillion flycatchers first breed as second year birds, the first spring after hatching. Males usually arrive to the breeding grounds a week or so earlier than females. They may arrive as early as February, and as late as the first week of April. The earliest nest observed was constructed in late March. The nests are loosely constructed and made of twigs, grasses, fibers, and empty cocoons, and lined with down, feathers, and hair. Nest shape is a shallow cup. The female completes the nest with cobwebs and lichens. Egg-laying occurs as soon as the nest has been finished. The clutch is usually made of 2-3 oval-shaped eggs. They range in color from pure white to cream, tan, or brown. The larger end of the egg is usually marked with a dark brown spot. The incubation period in Arizona is 13-15 days. The eggs are incubated by the female alone, all eggs hatch within 24 hours. The young are altricial and weigh a little over 1 gram. The female broods the young and they fledge approximately 13-15 days after hatching. Second broods are common. Second clutches have been observed from 20 May to 10 June (Carothers 1974).

  • Breeding season
    February-early June
  • Range eggs per season
    2 to 4
  • Average eggs per season
  • Range time to hatching
    13 to 15 days
  • Range fledging age
    13 to 15 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    2 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    2 years

Immediately after the eggs are laid, the female begins incubation. All eggs hatch by the 14th day in most cases, but the average length of time is 13-15 days. While the female incubates the eggs the male feeds her. He lands on a nearby branch and announces himself with a contact call. He quickly deposits the food in the female's mouth and promptly leaves. During this period, copulations often occur on the nest. Females have never been observed begging for food. The male feeds the female on average, every 1.5 hours. Following feeding, copulation is likely to occur. Females are extremely vigilant when they are at the nest. They are most alert in the early morning when the eggs are exposed to full sunlight. The female will often stand over the eggs so the sunlight cannot reach them. The female occasionally leaves the nest, but never goes very far. Young are altricial, weighting a little over a gram. Their eyes start to open about 4 days after hatching. There seems to be no correlation between the feeding rate and the number of young in the nest. Both parents feed the young, aproximately 3.5 times per hour. They are fed mostly butterflies and moths. About half of their food is made of larval lepidoptera (Carothers 1974).


The oldest vermillion flycatcher that was banded and subsequently recovered was at least five and half years old. (USGS, 2002)


Vermillion flycatchers spend little time on the ground. They are diurnal and are known like other flycatchers for their characteristic sallying from a perch to capture prey in mid-flight. No information is available on sleeping, roosting, or sunbathing. Both the male and female preen frequently during the day, and they are observed to wipe their bills on branches to clean them off after feeding (Wolf and Blair 2000).

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

Vermillion flycatchers mainly consume flying and terrestrial insects and other arthropods. They prefer grasshoppers, honeybees, beetles, and crickets. They forage during flight, performing sallies. Ninety-four percent of foraging takes place within 3 m of the ground, with the least amount of foraging occuring over water. They are a sit-and-wait predator. They sit on perches and sally down to catch single insects one at a time. Sometimes they carry captured prey to their perch and beat it before consuming it (Fitzpatrick 1980).

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods


They are probably subject to predation from typical predators of small birds. Snakes, raccoons, owls, and crows may take eggs and nestlings while hawks may take recently fledged birds.

Ecosystem Roles

These birds probably have an impact on insect populations (Wolf and Blair 2000).

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

This bird arrives in the Southwest every spring and is a sight to see for birdwatchers (Blair and Wolf 2000).

  • Positive Impacts
  • ecotourism
  • research and education

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects on humans

Conservation Status

This bird is losing habitat due to urbanization. The preservation of both dry and wet riparian areas should be a priority for the long term maintenance of populations of this bird. The opening of habitat due to habitat modifications by humans provides this bird with foraging habitat. However, due to the loss of many riparian areas, these birds have few areas in which to reproduce. Urbanization and man-made chemicals such as pesticides used in urban areas can poison their food supply (Wolf and Blair 2000).

Other Comments

During the breeding season, both males and females exhibit aggresive behavior towards other birds who approach the nest. They have been observed to chase off Lucy's Warbler (Vermivora luciae), Violet-green swallows (Tachycineta thalassina), Audubon's Warbler (Dendroica auduboni), and Western Kingbirds (Tyrannus verticalis; Wolf and Blair 2000).


Tiffany Alvarez (author), University of Arizona, Jorge Schondube (editor), University of Arizona.



uses sound to communicate


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


Found in coastal areas between 30 and 40 degrees latitude, in areas with a Mediterranean climate. Vegetation is dominated by stands of dense, spiny shrubs with tough (hard or waxy) evergreen leaves. May be maintained by periodic fire. In South America it includes the scrub ecotone between forest and paramo.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.


humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


union of egg and spermatozoan


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males


makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement


uses sight to communicate


Carothers, S. 1974. Breeding ecology and time-energy budget of male Vermilion Flycatchers and comments on the social organization of southwestern riparian birds. Ph.D. dissertation. Chicago: Univ. of Illinois.

Fitzpatrick, J. 1980. Foraging behavior of neotropical tyrant flycatchers. Condor, 82: 43-57.

Smith, W. 1967. Displays of the Vermilion Flycatcher (*Pyrocephalus rubinus*). Condor, 68: 306-307.

USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, 2002`. "Longevity records of North American birds" (On-line). Accessed July 15, 2002 at

Wolf, B., S. Jones. 2000. Vermillion Flycatcher. Pp. No. 213, pp 1-19 in A Poole, F Gill, eds. The Birds of North America: life histories for the 21st century. Washington, D.C..: The American Ornithologists' Union.