Warning: mysql_get_server_info(): No such file or directory in /home/ambercoa/birderslounge.com/wp-content/plugins/xml-google-maps/xmlgooglemaps_dbfunctions.php on line 10
Warning: mysql_get_server_info(): A link to the server could not be established in /home/ambercoa/birderslounge.com/wp-content/plugins/xml-google-maps/xmlgooglemaps_dbfunctions.php on line 10
Capturing a photo of this treetop-hopper was a real challenge. I think I may have seen a Great Crested Flycatcher (Myiarchus crinitus) before, but I have never captured an image. I seldom trust what I think I see, especially if the bird is new to me. When I get back home to examine the photos and consult my guide books and the internet, I usually feel pretty good about the ID. Even with the photos I managed to get, I still spent some time trying to determine if the bird was a Great Crested Flycatcher or a Brown-crested Flycatcher (Myiarchus tyrannulus). What threw me was a remark in my book, Birds of Texas1, that said (in regard to the Great Crested variety): it has a “…large bill with yellow lower mandible…” I didn’t get many views of the flycatcher, but I certainly got good views of his lower mandible – and it is not yellow. So I started looking at the very similar-looking Brown-crested Flycatcher. Based on the range maps, the bird I saw really shouldn’t be a Brown-crested Flycatcher…but don’t we all sort of hope to see a bird that really shouldn’t be where you’ve seen it?
So where IS that crest? I’m thinking he’s feeling pretty relaxed, and is just not showing it off at the moment. Based on the general consensus that Great Crested Flycatchers are a loud, aggressive lot, this relaxed scene may be rare. In the book, The Behavior of Texas Birds2, the author reports that they:
…attack squirrels, woodpeckers, and other small animals that enter holes and cavities; however, unlike Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, which must defend an exposed nest, they do not attack hawks, possibly because hawks present no particular threat to cavity nesters. They ignore many intruders on the basis of song. When models of orioles, vireos, and other birds were placed in the territory, the flycatchers attacked them only if the Grest Crested’s own song came from the speakers inside the models.
Further, and as illustrated by Audubon’s plate below, males will fight one another – inflicting bodily harm – over territory:
When it comes to courtship, the male “repeatedly flies at the female, and after forcing her to retreat to a hole, he hovers nearby.” [Rylander] Wow. The bird I saw was behaving perfectly civilized, so he was either a gentleman, or a female. I’ve pointed out a portion of the species account in Audubon’s book, because I have never come across the term, “tree surgery.” Interesting.
This comment about being a “hole-nesting” species touches on another fact about these lovely birds – unlike most flycatchers, they build their nests in natural or artificial cavities. Even more fascinating about their nest-building is the common practice of weaving a snakeskin into the nest. I have found reference to this behavior in a half-dozen sources, but of course, I like the old write-ups:
Chester writes, “They have a queer habit of placing a piece of snakeskin in the hole in which their nest is located, for what purpose, unless to scare away intruders, is not known, but it seems to be a universal practice.” I have a feeling that scaring intruders, or even snakes themselves, is precisely why this flycatcher uses the snake skin. Brilliant!
I’ll close by introducing a new Internet resource I’ve discovered, called Encyclopedia of Life. Inspired by the great naturalist, E. O. Wilson, and backed by significant funding, this resource looks like it will become one of my favorites. When I attempted to look up information about the Great Crested Flycatcher there, I discovered they did not yet have any images. I signed up to help out, and donated the image above. I think it may show up at EOL tomorrow…how fun!