Nothing could excite Dr. Beach O'Neill more than the possibility of discovering an unknown species of bird. Some day he hoped to travel to exotic rain forests where he could fulfill this childhood dream. His world is flipped out of control when a south Texas ranch foreman reports seeing a strange red bird on the banks of an isolated river where O'Neill is conducting research. Things turn bad when Beach discovers the mutilated body of the foreman. The county sheriff thinks O'Neill is the killer, but doesn't have enough evidence to prove it.
Thus begins a reckless contest between Beach O'Neill and an array of despotic villains who wish to be the first persons on Earth to possess the "Scarlet Kingfisher." Unsavory characters, both local and global, want Beach and his botanist girlfriend Rebecca Schroeder, out of the way and off the trail of this unique avian rarity. O'Neill is torn between his obsessive desire to capture the bird and present it to science and Becky's wish to let it remain in its river home as nature intended. Will this red kingfisher and two different world views tear apart their relationship? The disparate forces will have their way.