Colorado holds a few records in the United States: With 6,800 feet (2,073 meters), it has the highest mean elevation among the 50 states. It is also the only state whose entire area lies above 3,280 feet (1,000 meters).
El Paso County, where we live, is the most populous of Colorado’s 64 counties, based on the 2020 Census, which revealed a population of 730,395, exceeding even the population of the City and County of Denver by about 15,000. To me, this is a depressing statistic, as I think the region’s growth has been uncontrolled and unhealthy. But the purpose of this post is not to vent my frustration with too many people in an area with too little water and too much traffic, I simply was looking for a segue to the actual theme of my essay.
With regard to population dynamics, since the summer of 2022, El Paso also holds the distinction of being one of the few Colorado counties in which the successful breeding and fledging of an avian species—one that’s not even supposed to be here—has been documented. As the following range map from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology shows, Vermilion Flycatchers typically breed in parts of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona (and rarely in California).
When not one but two individual vermilions were discovered at our local Evergreen Cemetery in May of this year, and when one happened to be male and the other female, the excitement among birders was palpable. But because the birds were only in their first year of life, indicated by the yellowish wash on the female’s lower belly and vent (which later turns pink), and the speckled red belly of the male (which turns a homogeneous red as the bird ages), it was considered unlikely that they would breed this year.
Nonetheless, to everybody’s surprise and delight, we were proven wrong, and in time, a nest was discovered, with the female incubating presumptive eggs. When that nest was abandoned for unknown reasons and our late May snowstorm blanketed the entire area in 1.5 feet of snow, no one expected to find another nest. But that’s exactly what transpired.
Like several other birders, I made repeated trips to the cemetery in hopes of seeing this couple succeed, and our hopes weren’t disappointed. The following photos show what happened in the course of July. Not only did this young, unexperienced pair manage to lay an egg, they laid three. Moreover, all three eggs hatched, and the three nestlings were tended to so diligently that they were able to fledge.
Great joy abounded and good wishes for their future followed the family from all who were fortunate enough to witness their feat, one for the record books.
According to Cornell, the nest of Vermilion Flycatchers is “a shallow, somewhat loosely constructed cup of small twigs, grasses and empty cocoons bound together with spiderweb. It is often decorated (camouflaged) with small bits of lichen.”
Clutch size: 2-4 eggs.
Incubation period: 13-15 days.
Nestling period: 14 to 16 days.
PS: All photos were taken with a telephoto lens from a distance that seemed acceptable to the parents. It is important not to approach and disturb breeding birds, which could lead to the abandonment of the nest.