Eyecatchers, those Flycatchers

Ash-throated flycatcher...or is it a Brown crested? Photo from Wikipedia

Hiking along lost in thought, I glance up to see a glint from the top of a palo verde tree, a tiny signal mirror flashing. It is the white throat and breast feathers of a flycatcher. Launching from its perch the bird loops through the air with maneuvers to match a stunt plane, pulling a double barrel roll it dives and then shoots straight up toward the heavens. Some unlucky insect is soon to be a meal.
I used to think that all of the aerial acrobats I spotted on my walks were Ash-throated flycatchers, and was proud to have worked that on my own with the help of the Audubon Handbook of Western Birds. These birds are not shy and I’ve observed them from close range, admired their jaunty top knots, bright bold eyes and their rapier-like beaks. But then a birding friend pointed out that the low desert is range to another nearly identical flycatcher called the Brown-crested flycatcher. Both species belong to the Tyrannidae family of flycatchers presumably because of their absolute mastery over the insect population. Both perch on a high location and launch their fatal aerial attacks from this point. They will also scoop insects from branches and leaves. These birds are cavity nesters. Other members of the Tyrannidae family include the Vermillian flycatcher, and yes the male of this species is brilliantly cloaked in scarlet, and the drabber Say’s phoebe, the Black phoebe and the Western kingbird.
Apparently there is a trick to distinguishing between the Ash-throated and the Brown-crested flycathers, and that is to open your ears. The Brown-crested flycatcher has an easy to recognize call of Whit! And I must say that many times when I’ve been admiring the antics of the flycatchers that live near me, I have heard them calling, Whit!

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One response to “Eyecatchers, those Flycatchers

  1. I see them as sassy little birds….great descriptions and from the photo I am totally unable to decide…did your little guy ‘whit’ for you?

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