By John Keeling
At Lakeside we see more than two dozen species of flycatchers. Most of them are not brightly colored, and usually the sexes have similar plumage. The vermilion flycatcher, however, is different – the male has a startlingly bright scarlet head and breast, while the female is quite plain with a streaked whitish breast and a hint of pink in the vent area. They are the size of a sparrow, only six inches long.
This is a local resident species common here and throughout Mexico. It has a wide range of occurrence, being found from Texas and New Mexico in the north to Argentina in the southern hemisphere, and also on the Galapagos Islands. In the extreme northerly and southerly parts of the range, the birds tend to migrate to warmer latitudes in the winter.
It is adaptable to open forests, dry scrub areas and deserts, but really enjoys farmlands and gardens. Once you get to recognize this brightly colored flycatcher, you will notice it everywhere you go on the lakeshore.
Typically you will see this bird at the exposed end of a high branch of a tree or bush, waiting patiently for insects to fly by. Then suddenly, it will take off in pursuit, intercepting an insect or chasing it until it is snapped-up in the beak, and subsequently looping back to the starting point or to another observation post nearby. Occasionally it will drop down to the ground to catch insects. The food list includes dragonflies, beetles, crickets, flies, termites and spiders.
In late March the male establishes and starts to defend a territory. He performs aerial displays to impress a female, as well as bringing her insects. When she is ready, he takes her on a tour of the best locations for a nest in his territory, crouching and shaking in each potential nest position. She builds the nest in a chosen location, usually in the horizontal fork of a small branch. The nest is a loosely-built shallow cup of plant stems and similar materials held together with spider’s web, and lined with feathers.
Both male and female will actively chase away other birds of the same size that come near the nest, but will slink away if a larger bird appears.
She lays three eggs, which are cream colored with dark-brown blotches on the big end. She sits on the eggs for 13 days during which time the male feeds her with a steady supply of insects. After the chicks hatch both parents are kept busy for a month, feeding the young in the nest for two weeks until they can fly, and also for another week or two while they just sit around on branches waiting to be fed until they are strong enough to catch their own food.
By mid-May it is time for the same pair to start the whole mating and nesting process one more time. They certainly keep busy.
John Keeling and his wife lead the ‘Lake Chapala Birding Club’ which is a group of people interested in birds. To receive notices of bird walks etc., leave your e-mail address at avesajijic.com.