Birds in the News

Maine’s First Verified Vermilion Flycatcher Captured Live on Hog Island Web Cam

Thousands of miles off course, the bird took a rest—on an Osprey nest.


The beauty of nature live-streams is that you never know what might happen. Take, for instance, the Osprey nest camera hosted by Audubon and Explore.org on Audubon's Hog Island. It is full of surprises. 

During breeding season, the cam is great for checking up on a nesting pair of Ospreys nicknamed Rachel and Steve. But twice the cam has captured the drama of a Bald Eagle attacking their nest. And now this morning it picked up an incredible rarity, the first confirmed sighting of a Vermilion Flycatcher in Maine. At 7:17 a.m., the unexpected visitor took a brief respite on a large branch extending from the Osprey nest. 

This handsome fellow is very far from home—Vermilion Flycatchers in the United States usually stick to the Southwest. That said, the birds have developed a reputation for wandering off course during migration, with scattered records as far afield as Washington state and Quebec, according to expert birder and Audubon field editor Kenn Kaufman. 

Still, it's an exciting rarity for a New England state like Maine. "Vermilion Flycatchers undoubtedly wander out of range every year," Kaufman said in an email. "But as you move farther and farther away from the core range, your chances of finding such a bird become vanishingly remote. Even when it's a bright red male like this, it's a very tiny needle in a vast haystack."

It technically might not be the first needle in this particular haystack, though. While this bird counts as the first confirmed sighting of a Vermilion in Maine, it's not the first reported stray. According to the Maine Bird Records Committee, there has been at least one "hypothetical" sighting of a Vermilion Flycatcher in Maine. That's the status given when a report seems trustworthy but wasn't specific enough in the listed location or lacks documentation. Documentation like, say, a video.

And that might be what's most amazing about this clip: that such a rare and tiny little bird chose to alight on a branch that just happened to be featured on a live web cam. One tree over, and chances are good no one would have ever known the bird flew through. The moment is, as Kaufman puts it, an "insane coincidence." 

What's also surprising, Kaufman adds, is that the bird stopped by in the spring. Most off-course Vermilions are reported during fall, he says. Even though the male is not a full adult, getting to see its bright-red breeding plumage was a treat for web-cam viewers. And while the bird looked like a blurry red smudge from afar, one watcher was able to zoom in close on the flycatcher and its scarlet feathers before the bird flitted off—perhaps to begin its long journey back home.  

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