Red birds are uncommon in North America. Residents of the eastern half of the Unites States enjoy Northern Cardinals as their perennial neighbors. Seasonally, Scarlet and Summer Tanagers add their cheerful color. In Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico Summer and Hepatic Tanagers brighten the summer months. Here in Colorado, we mostly see reddish patches on House Finches and American Robins (I suggest clicking on the embedded links for photographs of these birds).
A stray surprise will occasionally cross state borders and occur far from its usual hunting grounds, causing much excitement in the world of bird lovers. Such was the case in eastern El Paso County in early April, when an astute observer detected a dash of scarlet in the middle of the Colorado prairie. According to the distribution map, this winged wonder occurs in Mexico year-round, with summer sojourns in the three southwestern states mentioned above. The guide book describes it as being locally common near streams and ponds. Hanover Fire Station, where it was sighted, is hundreds of miles north of its typical range, and not close to any significant body of water. To learn where it came from, and why it ended up so far from its customary habitat would be elucidating, but not knowing in no way distracts from one’s delight in this rare visitor, aptly called Vermilion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus, literally “ruby-colored fire head”). If any avian ever lived up to its name, it is the male of this species.
When my birding friends shared their knowledge of this colorful Easter Sunday present, it was inconvenient for me to make the 30 mile trip late in the afternoon. As these cameos are often brief, I feared I might no longer find it when I arrived at the site the following morning. A small cluster of fellow birders whose binoculars and cameras were pointed at a tree sustained my hope. As soon as I climbed out of the car, a brilliant blush on a branch made my heart skip and my step bounce. Instead of avoiding attention, this individual was not intimidated by our appearance at his stage and he put on a pleasing performance, dashing back and forth between trees, cholla cactus, and fence, in search of his preferred food, flies, as his name implies.
Contrary to expectation, he remained in the same location for at least three or four days, and was subsequently observed in a private yard nearby, allowing many to witness his presence. Whither he has sallied I do not know, but I am grateful to have glimpsed one of nature’s unexpected gifts.