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Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program Balancing Resource Use and Conservation

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Vermilion Flycatcher

      (Pyrocephalus rubinus)

Female Vermilion Flycatcher - Great Basin Bird Observatory - Amy LeistMale Vermilion Flycatcher - Great Basin Bird Observatory - Amy LeistFemale Vermilion Flycatcher - Great Basin Bird Observatory - Amy Leist
  • DESCRIPTION
  • DISTRIBUTION
  • HABITAT
  • CONSERVATION
  • MULTIMEDIA

General Description

The vermilion flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus) is a small flycatcher with a length about 5.1-5.5 in (13-14 cm), and a mass of 0.4-0.5 oz (11-14 g). The plumage is sexually dichromatic. The adult male has bright vermilion red on the top of the head with underparts bright vermilion red, scarlet, or orange. There is a dark blackish-brown mask around the eyes, with the remaining upperparts including wings and tail colored blackish brown. The adult female has the top of the head and remaining upperparts, including wings and tail, colored grayish brown, becoming darkest on the tail. The forehead has an indistinct grayish white stripe. The female’s underparts are whitish, becoming pale red to salmon-colored, and finely streaked with gray on the breast and sides. Adult plumages are similar throughout the year.

Legal Status

In California, the vermilion flycatcher is considered a species of special concern.

Taxonomy

Twelve subspecies of vermilion flycatcher are recognized, including a race with a dark morph that ranges from western Peru to northern Chile. The subspecies along the lower Colorado River is the Pyrocephalus rubinus flammeus and ranges from south-central California, southern Nevada, southern Arizona, and southern Texas south to Baja California, Sonora, and Nayarit, Mexico.

Reproduction

Breeding birds of the Colorado Desert are generally resident, but those in colder regions (such as the Mojave Desert) are migratory and withdraw at least partially to different habitats in winter. Birds that migrate arrive on their breeding grounds by late February or early March and typically depart by late September. The breeding season extends from early March through early July. In Arizona, males arrive on the breeding grounds first, beginning in early to mid-February. Nest construction can begin by late February. These birds are monogamous. The nest site is chosen based on the 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. Nest construction begins almost immediately after the female chooses the site. The nests are loosely constructed and made of twigs, grasses, and fibers, and lined with down, feathers, and hair. Nest shape is a shallow cup. 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. Immediately after the eggs are laid, the female begins incubation. All eggs hatch by 14 days in most cases, but the average length of time is 13-15 days. Young are helpless and weigh a little over a gram. Their eyes start to open about 4 days after hatching. Both parents feed the young mostly butterflies and moths. The female broods the young and they fledge approximately 13-15 days after hatching. Second broods are common.

Diet

The vermilion flycatcher prefers open areas and often perches in a conspicuous location from which it flies frequently attempting to capture prey. This species consumes insects and other arthropods. Among the insects known to be taken are grasshoppers, beetles, flies, and bees They are a sit-and-wait predator, sitting on perches and flying down to catch single insects one at a time. Sometimes they carry captured prey to their perch and beat it before consuming it.

Threats

The primary threat to the vermilion flycatcher in this portion of its range is loss of riparian woodlands. The destruction of much of the native riparian habitat along the LCR, and its replacement in many areas by nonnative saltcedar (Tamarix spp.), has probably led to its near-extirpation as a breeding species in this area. The recent increase in flycatcher nesting locations in the Mojave Desert of California perhaps can be attributed to the various man-made habitat oases, such as parks, golf courses, and suburban housing places, in areas formerly supporting desert scrub. Brood parasitism by brown-headed cowbirds (Molothrus ater) may contribute slightly to population declines in California, but the vermilion flycatcher appears to be an uncommon host.

More Information

Additional information on this species, as well as source documentation, can be found in the species accounts located at this link (PDF). The Conceptual Ecological Model (CEM) can be found here (PDF). Technical Reports on this species can be found here.

Updated December 8, 2017

Vermilion flycatchers were considered numerous in the lower Colorado River Valley in the early part of the 1900s. Vermilion flycatchers have undergone a significant range shift in California during the past five decades. Breeding birds persisted in the Coachella Valley to at least the late 1950s, but the species no longer nests there; it also has declined in the Imperial Valley, where it is now considered a “rare” breeder. This change in status, from breeder to early winter visitor, has been documented in other parts of the flycatcher’s Sonoran Desert range. Vermilion flycatchers now occupy many parks, golf courses and residential areas that contain mature mesquite trees along the lower Colorado River near Blythe, CA, Parker and Yuma, AZ, as a winter resident and local breeder.

The vermilion flycatcher is locally common in southern Nevada. The vermilion flycatcher breeds in Arizona from the northwest and Mogollon Rim, south throughout the state. The flycatcher is common along the base of the Huachuca Mountains, and absent from the southwestern corner of the state. There are local concentrations along major drainages such as the Gila, Salt, Verde, Agua Fria, Santa Cruz, and San Pedro rivers. Vermillion flycatchers were also found regularly to west central Arizona along the Hassayampa, Bill Williams, Santa Maria, and Big Sandy river systems. The flycatcher is reported as a rare and local breeder along the lower Verde and Salt rivers. The flycatcher also breeds in southern New Mexico in the Pecos, San Francisco, Gila, and lower/middle Rio Grande valleys, with occasional summer records from northeastern New Mexico in San Miguel and Union counties. The vermilion flycatcher breeds in western and central Texas, and occasionally breeds in central and western Oklahoma.

During the breeding season, vermilion flycatchers occupy arid scrub, farmlands, savanna, agricultural areas, and riparian woodland. They are often associated with surface water, and in Arizona, occur where cottonwoods, willows, oaks, mesquites, and sycamores line streams. When the vermilion flycatcher formerly bred in the Sonoran Desert of California, it was associated with low-lying, open riparian areas with accessible water (either pooled or flowing) and dominated by mesquite, willow, and Fremont cottonwood. At some sites, they also inhabit golf courses, residential areas, and parks. On the LCR, vermilion flycatchers are most often found in riparian woodland dominated by willows and cottonwoods with mesquites, surface water, and pastureland frequently nearby. In Arizona, nests are usually placed in native trees such as Goodding’s willows, Fremont cottonwoods, mesquites, Arizona walnuts, Arizona sycamores, desert willows, acacia, and Palo Verde, but sometimes in nonnative trees such as elms, olives, black locusts, saltcedar, and eucalyptus, especially in parks or near human habitations.

 

LCR MSCP Conservation Measures

The Habitat Conservation Plan provides conservation measures specific to each species. Listed below are the species specific conservation measures for the vermilion flycatcher. Click on the arrows to expand the table.

VEFL1—Create 5,208 acres of vermilion flycatcher habitat

Of the 7,260 acres of created cottonwood-willow and honey mesquite, at least 5,208 acres will be designed and created to provide habitat for this species. Patches of created habitat will be designed and managed to support cottonwood-willow types I–IV and honey mesquite type III that provide habitat for this species. The created habitat will be established in patches as large as possible. At a minimum, however, isolated patches of honey mesquite will be created in patches of at least 50 acres, and, of the 5,940 acres of LCR MSCP–created cottonwood-willow, 1,702 acres will be created in patches of at least 50 acres, 2,348 acres will be created in patches of at least 25 acres, and 1,890 acres will be created in patches of at least 10 acres. In addition to the spatial replacement of affected habitat, the quality of created habitat will be substantially greater than affected habitats. Patches of existing cottonwood-willow in the LCR MSCP planning area typically include dense stands of saltcedar that support little vegetative diversity relative to the cottonwood willow land cover that will be created as habitat. Created habitat will be dominated by native riparian trees (i.e., cottonwood and willow trees), support a tree structure corresponding to structural types I–IV, support a diversity of plant species, and be created to the greatest extent practicable in patch sizes optimal for supporting the species. Created habitat, thus, will approximate the condition of the native habitat of the species that was historically present along the LCR. The design and management criteria described in the conservation measures for the southwestern willow flycatcher (Section 5.7.2 in the HCP) and yellow-billed cuckoo (Section 5.7.14 in the HCP) will ensure that created cottonwood-willow stands in structural types I–IV will also provide other habitat requirements for this species (e.g., habitat patch size, food requirements).

MRM1—Conduct surveys and research to better identify covered and evaluation species habitat requirements

Conduct surveys and research, as appropriate, to collect information necessary to better define the species habitat requirements and to design and manage fully functioning created covered and evaluation species habitats. This conservation measure applies to those species for which comparable measures are not subsumed under species-specific conservation measures (Section 5.7 in the HCP). They are not applicable to species for which habitat would not be created under the LCR MSCP Conservation Plan, such as the desert tortoise, relict leopard frog, humpback chub, and threecorner milkvetch.

MRM2—Monitor and adaptively manage created covered and evaluation species habitats

Created species habitats will be managed to maintain their functions as species habitat over the term of the LCR MSCP. Created habitat will be monitored and adaptively managed over time to determine the types and frequency of management activities that may be required to maintain created cottonwood-willow, honey mesquite, marsh, and backwater land cover as habitat for covered species. This conservation measure applies to those species for which comparable measures are not subsumed under species-specific conservation measures (Section 5.7 in the HCP). They are not applicable to species for which habitat would not be created under the LCR MSCP Conservation Plan, such as the desert tortoise, relict leopard frog, humpback chub, and threecorner milkvetch.

MRM4—Conduct research to determine and address the effects of brown-headed cowbird nest parasitism on reproduction of covered species

Research will be undertaken to determine whether brown-headed cowbird nest parasitism is a substantial factor limiting the reproductive success of the southwestern willow flycatcher, vermilion flycatcher, Arizona Bell's vireo, Sonoran yellow warbler, and summer tanager in the LCR MSCP planning area. If so, studies will be implemented to identify effective and practical methods for controlling brown-headed cowbirds. If cowbirds are adversely affecting breeding success and effective control measures are developed, a program will be implemented to monitor the effects of cowbirds on nesting success in LCR MSCP–created habitats to determine the need for cowbird control and to implement cowbird control measures in locations where cowbird control is needed to improve reproductive success.

CMM1—Reduce risk of loss of created habitat to wildfire

Management of LCR MSCP conservation areas will include contributing to and integrating with local, state, and Federal agency fire management plans. Conservation areas will be designed to contain wildfire and facilitate rapid response to suppress fires (e.g., fire management plans will be an element of each conservation area management plan).

CMM2—Replace created habitat affected by wildfire

In the event of created-habitat degradation or loss as a result of wildfire, land management and habitat creation measures to support the reestablishment of native vegetation will be identified and implemented.

AMM1—To the extent practicable, avoid and minimize impacts of implementing the LCR MSCP on existing covered species habitats

To the extent practicable, establishment and management of LCR MSCP–created habitats will avoid removal of existing cottonwood-willow stands, honey mesquite bosques, marsh, and backwaters to avoid and minimize impacts on habitat they provide for covered species. Temporary disturbance of covered species habitats, however, may be associated with habitat creation and subsequent maintenance activities (e.g., controlled burning in marshes and removal of trees to maintain succession objectives). LCR MSCP conservation measures that could result in such temporary disturbances will, to the extent practicable, be designed and implemented to avoid or minimize the potential for disturbance. In addition to implementing AMM3 and AMM4 below, these measures could include conducting preconstruction surveys to determine if covered species are present and, if present, implementing habitat establishment and management activities during periods when the species would be least sensitive to those activities; or redesigning the activities to avoid the need to disturb sensitive habitat use areas; staging construction activities away from sensitive habitat use areas; and implementing BMPs to control erosion when implementing ground disturbing activities.

AMM2—Avoid impacts of flow-related covered activities on covered species habitats at Topock Marsh

Impacts on groundwater levels that support covered species habitat at Topock Marsh will be avoided by maintaining water deliveries for maintenance of water levels and existing conditions. At times, flow-related activities could lower river elevations to levels that could disrupt diversion of water from the river to the marsh.  Improvements to intake structures that allow water to continue to be diverted or other measures to maintain the water surface elevation will avoid effects on groundwater elevation. Avoidance of effects could be accomplished with the purchase, installation, and operation of two electric pumps sized to the current inflow at the Topock Marsh diversion inlet. The pumps would most likely need to be operated during summer to make up for the lower flow periods.

Implementation of this conservation measure would maintain existing habitat at Topock Marsh for the Yuma clapper rail, southwestern willow flycatcher, Colorado River cotton rat, western least bittern, California black rail, yellow-billed cuckoo, gilded flicker, vermilion flycatcher, Arizona Bell's vireo, and Sonoran yellow warbler. The extent of covered species habitat impacts that will be avoided by maintaining water deliveries to Topock Marsh are presented in Table 4-2 in the HCP. Maintaining water deliveries to Topock Marsh will also maintain razorback sucker and bonytail habitat associated with disconnected backwaters managed for these species.

AMM3—To the extent practicable, avoid and minimize disturbance of covered bird species during the breeding season

To the extent practicable, to avoid and minimize potential impacts on covered bird species, vegetation management activities (e.g., periodic removal of emergent vegetation to maintain canals and drains) associated with implementation of covered activities and the LCR MSCP that could result in disturbance to covered bird species will not be implemented during the breeding season to prevent injury or mortality of eggs and young birds unable to avoid these activities. Table 5-9 in the HCP describes the breeding period for each of the covered species during which, to the extent practicable, vegetation management activities in each species' habitat will be avoided.

AMM5—Avoid impacts of operation, maintenance, and replacement of hydroelectric generation and transmission facilities on covered species in the LCR MSCP planning area

To the extent practicable, before implementing activities associated with OM&R of hydroelectric generation and transmission facilities, measures will be identified and implemented that are necessary to avoid take of covered species where such activities could otherwise result in take. These measures could include conducting surveys to determine if covered species are present and, if so, deferring the implementation of activities to avoid disturbance during the breeding season; redesigning the activities to avoid the need to disturb covered species habitat use areas; staging of equipment outside of covered species habitats; delineating the limits of vegetation control activities to ensure that only the vegetation that needs to be removed to maintain infrastructure is removed; stockpiling and disposing of removed vegetation in a manner that minimizes the risk of fire; and implementing BMPs to control erosion when implementing ground disturbing activities.

AMM6—Avoid or minimize impacts on covered species habitats during dredging, bank stabilization activities and other river management activities

To the extent practicable, before initiating activities involved with river maintenance projects, measures will be identified and implemented that avoid or minimize take of covered species where such activities could otherwise result in take. Such measures could include alternative methods to achieve project goals, timing of activities, pre-activity surveys, and minimizing the area of effect, including offsite direct and indirect effects (e.g., avoiding or minimizing the need to place dredge spoil and discharge lines in covered species habitats; placing dredge spoils in a manner that will not affect covered species habitats).


Research and Monitoring Activities

LCR MSCP conducts a variety of research and monitoring activities along the LCR encompassing both MSCP and non-MSCP species. For a complete list of all activities, please see the Research and Monitoring Activities web page.

 

This gallery includes photos of this species. If you require larger photos, please contact our webmaster Michelle Reilly at mreilly@usbr.gov.

Male vermilion flycatcher perches on a mesquite branch - Photo by Great Basin Bird Observatory - Amy Leist Female vermilion flycatcher sits on its nest - Photo by Great Basin Bird Observatory - Amy Leist Juvenile vermilion flycatcher perches on a snag - Photo by Great Basin Bird Observatory - Amy Leist Male vermilion flycatcher perches on a mesquite tree - Photo by Great Basin Bird Observatory - Amy Leist Juvenile vermilion flycatcher flies to next perch - Photo by Great Basin Bird Observatory - Amy Leist