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!