Fire Head

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.

47 thoughts on “Fire Head

    • You are absolutely right, Neil, vermilion is a lovely word. It would be nice if this bird decided to stay here to breed, but so far, there are no indications. I think it was blown off course, and has probably migrated back south to find himself a mate. Otherwise, his beautiful appearance and singing would be for naught. 🙂
      You might get to see his cousin in New Mexico!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. What a wonderful red gem nature bestowed in your area, so happy you were able to see and photograph him! Such a beauty!! I’ve yet to see one of these and would be beyond excited if I did. Congrats on awesome captures, Tanja, he posed so nicely! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Wunderschönes Rot und das Beitragsbild liebe ich! Ist in seiner Unschärfe so dynamisch passend!
    Die mir in D bekannten Vögel sind ja nur an bestimmten Stellen rot wie der Distelfink oder der Buntspecht. Gegen den Feuerkopf können sie aber nicht mithalten. Höchstens noch der Gimpel, aber der ist ja eher orange!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Danke, liebe Simone. Ich schwankte etwas bezüglich des Beitragsbildes, aber auch mir gefiel die darin steckende Bewegung. Ich wollte, ich könnte sagen, es sei beabsichtigt gewesen, aber das habe ich mal wieder meiner Kamera zu verdanken. 🙂
      In unseren gemäßigten Breiten ist Rot einfach was ganz Besonderes, und wird deshalb besonders genossen.
      Liebe Grüße,

      Liked by 2 people

  3. What a beauty and I can well imagine that brilliant colour standing out among the tree bark and/or foliage. Such a sighting, so far from its usual home, is a real treat and I’m glad you were able to observe it so closely.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you for picking up on the poetic name of this dream of a bird, Steve. I am trying to pay more attention to the scientific names of animals and plants which are often extremely descriptive.


      • And it’s not just animals and plants. Take chemistry, where oxygen means ‘giving birth to sharpness [i.e. burning]’ and hydrogen means ‘giving birth to water’. Names of mythological characters are often descriptions, too. One example is Pandora, literally ‘all gifts’. Likewise in place names, where Norway is the ‘north way’ and Normandy is where the ‘north men’ settled.

        Liked by 1 person

      • If I had my way, all schoolteachers would be required to take a course in word origins. I also wish textbooks pointed out the origins of important technical terms. When I taught math, I always explained the literal meaning and relevance of words like vertex and hyperbola.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. For us in Texas, this bird screams ‘The West’ as we don’t usually enjoy him unless we drive the 10 hours to Big Bend National Park. What a great find for you there!! And he is posing so nicely for you too. Fortunately in January, we also had a surprise Vermilion at Brazos Bend SP. He was the bird of the day for us for sure.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Ich bin ganz hingerissen! Was für ein entzückendes Vögelchen!!! Schwelg. Sooo schön. Wirklich außergewöhnlich und was für ein tolles Erlebnis, es in echt sehen zu können. Und dann auch noch mit einer so netten Vorstellung für euch. Die tolle Kopffrisur erinnert an einen Punker 🙂 Die Bilder sind wunderschön. Ich finde, sie haben etwas poetisches! Besonders das allererste und das letzte! Mit begeisterten Grüßen von hier, Almuth

    Liked by 2 people

  6. How lucky that you were able to see this bird, Tanja. I have never seen these birds as they are not found where I live. I think it must be one of the most beautiful birds I’ve ever come across, but it could be because I am partial to orange hehe.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Wow, fantastic! I’m jealous! I miss seeing Cardinals, which I grew up with on the east coast. You made some beautiful images of this bird, and I like “whither he has sallied I do not know” because surely, he sallies. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Every once in a while, a cardinal will visit Colorado, but I have not been among the fortunate few who have seen one in this state. I was luckier with this firehead.
      Thank you for stopping by, and for your nice comment.

      Liked by 1 person

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