Great crested flycatcher

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Great crested flycatcher
Great Crested Flycatcher in back of Bowman's Beach, Sanibel.jpg
Migrating in April
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Tyrannidae
Genus: Myiarchus
Species: M. crinitus
Binomial name
Myiarchus crinitus
(Linnaeus, 1758)

The great crested flycatcher (Myiarchus crinitus) is a large insect-eating bird of the tyrant flycatcher family. It is the most widespread member of the genus Myiarchus in North America, and is found over most of the eastern and mid-western portions of the continent.[2] It dwells mostly in the treetops and rarely is found on the ground.[3]


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Adult great crested flycatchers usually measure between 17–21 cm (6.7–8.3 in) in length with a wingspan of around 34 cm (13 in). This bird usually weighs between 27–40 g (0.95–1.41 oz).[3]

The great crested flycatcher does not display sexual dimorphism. All adults are brownish on the upperparts with yellow underparts; they have a long rusty brown tail and a bushy crest. Their throat and breast are grey.

Their breeding habitat is deciduous or mixed forests across eastern North America. They nest in a cavity in a tree. Usually a snake skin is included in the lining of the nest, but sometimes a plastic wrapper is substituted.

They wait on a high perch and fly out to catch insects in flight. Sometimes they may be seen hovering to pick food off of vegetation, buildings, and even windows. They also eat fruits and berries.

The call of these birds is a whistled weep.

These birds migrate to Mexico and South America, as well as to Florida and Cuba.

Habitat and distribution[edit]

The Great Crested flycatcher habitat selection may vary slightly with different populations, but can be most often found breeding in deciduous forests and at edges of clearings and mixed woodlands. They also show a tendency to favour landscapes with open canopy, such as second growth forests or woodlands that have been subjected to selective cutting, and also appears to avoid coniferous dominant habitats such as the Canadian boreal forest.[4]

The summer breeding ground covers all eastern, mid-eastern and parts of central United States, including Northern parts of the Florida peninsula, parts of Texas, central Oklahoma, and eastern and central North Dakota.[5]

In Canada, it is limited to southern Manitoba, extreme southern portions of the St-Lawrence forest of Ontario, Quebec, northeast Nova Scotia and parts of Prince Edward Island.[6]

Its winter range includes most of southern Mexico and the Yucatán Peninsula, and extends along the costs of Central America. In southern peninsular Florida, Great Crested flycatcher can be found year-round.[4]



Males will sing a three-part song composed of two short whistles: a wheerreep followed by a higher-pitched whee, and a soft low churr. This song is meant to be heard by a mate at short distances, indicating periods of low disturbance and stress typically intensifying just before dawn. It is appropriately named "dawn song" (or twilight song).[7][8]

In addition to the dawn song, great crested flycatcher also produce various calls, a series of fast ascending huit, huit, huit is given in moments of stress or excitement during interactions of between neighbours.[8] The most characteristic sound is perhaps a single loud whee-eep, called out to communicate between mates or parents and young birds. A faster repetition of this call often signal predators in proximity to nests and young.[8] A rapid succession of harsh-sounds rasps signals alarm or stress often heard during territorial disputes between neighbouring birds [8][9]


The great crested flycatcher is primarily an insectivore, with insects and other invertebrates making up for the majority of its diet, but will also consume small portion of small fruits and berries. Despite the "flycatcher" of the bird's name, flies, along with spiders, make up only a small percentage of its diet; it prefers prey such as butterflies, moths, beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, and bees and wasps.[10]

Great crested flycatchers will use a variety of hunting tactics, although the most common method observed is a rather passive sit-and-wait strategy. Perched in high canopies, they search in all direction often accompanied by a characteristic head bobbing. Once they have spotted a potential prey, they swoop down and will pursue if they missed on the first dive.[5] They can also be seen abruptly braking and hovering, picking insects or small fruits off of leaves, trunks or other surfaces, sometimes crashing into the foliage in the process.[8][5]

Fruits and berries, when consumed are swallowed whole and the pits later regurgitated.[8]


Nest building begins as early as mid April for populations of the southern distribution,[11] and as late as June for northern populations (i.e Manitoba).[9]

Great crested flycatchers are socially monogamous [12] with chances of pairs reforming in following years, given that both members of the pair survive the winter.[6] Pairs have been observed to attempt copulation from the beginning of nest building all the way to the hatching of young, sometimes during the nest building process; this is though to be a strategy developed by males in order to prevent female infidelity.[11] Mating ritual for the great crested flycatcher is described as males swooping down from a high perch in order to initiate mating with females, sometimes hovering near hideaway if female retreats, before returning to perch and repeating diving routine until mating is successful.[6]

Although both parents will inspect potential sites, building of the nest is done almost entirely by the female, while the male closely guards its mate.[12] Cavities than are large enough in size and opening are the preferred nesting sites, whether naturally occurring or excavated by other species (8) as well as use nesting boxes and other man-made structures.[12] Most chosen cavities are situated between 2m and 6m off the forest ground (11,15). The nest itself is built within 2 to 4 days and is composed mostly of vegetation and plant fibers, such as grasses, moss, leaves, but also pieces of animal fur and feathers, pieces of shed snakeskin, and artificial materials (ex: strings, tape, cloth, and plastic objects).[12] The inner diameter ranges from 7–9 cm.[12]

Great crested flycatchers lay a single clutch of 4-8 eggs, which are incubated on average for two weeks by the female only.[12][9][13] After hatching, nestlings will typically spend another two weeks in the nest before fledging. During this time, nestlings are fed an insect dominated diet by both parents, although females will make more frequent visits.[12][13]



  1. ^ BirdLife International (2012). "Myiarchus crinitus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013. 
  2. ^ Alderfer, Jonathan, Ed. (2008). National Geographic Complete Birds of North America. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic. p. 396. ISBN 0-7922-4175-4. 
  3. ^ a b "All About Birds: Great Crested Flycatcher". Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. Retrieved 2008-06-12. 
  4. ^ a b Fitzpatrick, JWW (January 1980). "Foraging behavior of neotropical tyrant flycatchers" (PDF). Condor 82 (1): 43–57. 
  5. ^ a b c Stevenson, HM; Anderson, BH (1994). The Birdlife of Florida (PDF). Gainseville: University of Florida Press. 
  6. ^ a b c Miller, KE; Wesley, EL. "Great Crested Flycatcher". The Birds of North America Online. 
  7. ^ Nice, MM (1931). "Notes on the twilight songs of the Scissor-tailed and Crested Flycatchers" (PDF). Auk 48 (1): 123–125. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f Smith, WJ; Smith, AM (1996). "Vocal signalling of the Great Crested Flycatcher, Myiarchus crinitus (Aves, Tyrannidae).". Ethology 102: 705–723. doi:10.1111/j.1439-0310.1996.tb01161.x. 
  9. ^ a b c Taylor, WK; Kershner, MA (1991). "Breeding biology of the Great Crested Flycatcher in central Florida" (PDF). Journal of Field Ornithology 62 (1): 28–39. 
  10. ^ Gabrielson, IN (1915). "The home of the Great Crest" (PDF). Wilson Bulletin 27 (4): 421–434. 
  11. ^ a b Macdougall-Shackleton, EA; Robertson, RJ (October 1995). "Mate guarding tactics used by Great Crested Flycatchers" (PDF). Wilson Bulletin 107 (4): 757–761. 
  12. ^ a b c d e f g Bent, AC (1942). Life histories of North American flycatchers, larks, swallows and their allies. United States National Museum. 
  13. ^ a b Gillespie, JA (1924). "Some nestings of the Crested Flycatcher" (PDF). Auk 41 (1): 41–44. 

External links[edit]