Rare Bird Spotted on Cape Cod for Fourth Time in Over 60 Years

by Craig Garrett
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Cape Cod’s beaches are known for their majestic views and the occasional whale sighting, but a rare bird has people excited. Birders in Massachusetts are on the lookout for a rare bird that has been spotted in Brewster. The Cape Cod region has become famous lately for shark and whale sightings, but this is the first time this particular bird has been seen in the state.

Last Friday, Mark Faherty spotted a Vermilion Flycatcher in Massachusetts. This bird is extremely rare to see in this state. Faherty is the Science Coordinator at Massachusetts Audubon Cape Cod and he writes “The Weekly Bird Report” for Cape and Islands NPR affiliate WCAI as well as their website capeandislands.org. “It was a real doozy,” Faherty explained. “This one ticked all the boxes for a crowd-pleasing find. It’s good looking, it’s easy to find and see, almost criminally easy to photograph, and no one has ever seen one on the Cape and Islands before.”

Faherty said he was bird-watching in a marsh when he discovered the Vermilion Flycatcher. This find was especially exciting to Faherty because it was “close to where [he] saw a different flycatcher last week.” It took a minute for Faherty to wrap his head around seeing the rare bird. “I quickly realized what I was looking at, improbable though it was,” he recalled.

The birdwatcher raced to get evidence ofthe rare bird in Cape Cod

Faherty said he quickly took some photos to document his discovery. “I broke into a sprint, heart pounding from a combination of adrenaline and poor cardiovascular fitness,” he quipped. Faherty said the flycatcher was a juvenile male with most of the red plumage characteristic of an adult, though more orange and less intense. He called the find stunning. “This species has only been recorded in Massachusetts three times,” he explained. This was between 1954 and 2017. It may have come from Texas, Arizona, or even Venezuela. Faherty’s report about his discovery contains an audio byte of him describing the rare bird on capeandislands.org.

Though they’re rare in Massachusetts, they’re quite common elsewhere. The vermilion flycatcher was first discovered and classified by Charles Darwin in the late 1830s. In 2016, after further research was conducted on the taxonomy of Pyrocephalus, it was determined that there were several new subspecies of vermilion flycatcher, one of which (San Cristóbal) is now extinct. The main populations have diminished because of destroyed habitats; however, there are still millions of individuals remaining overall. For these reasons, the International Union for Conservation of Nature has listed this species as being “of least concern.”

Although they mate with one social partner, vermilion flycatchers will have sex with others outside of their pair bond. They also laid their eggs in the nests of other members of their species–a behavior known as brood parasitism. Females build shallow open cup nests and incubate the brown-speckled whitish eggs; during this time, the male brings her food. Two broods of two or three eggs are laid in a season lasting from March through June. Once hatched, both males and females feed the chicks until they’re ready to leave the nest (fledge) after 15 days.