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Flycatchers As Cool As Bluebirds

Dear Bird Folks,

Earlier this year we had a pair of Great Crested Flycatchers that raised a family in one of our birdhouses. After the young flycatchers took their first flight the box sat quiet for a few days. Now Great Crested Flycatchers are once again using the same box. Is this the same pair of flycatchers preparing for a second brood or could it be their offspring coming back to visit the old neighborhood before they migrate south for the winter?

-Lady in line at Stop & Shop, Orleans, MA


Dearest Line Lady,

First of all I must apologize for not knowing your name. I was so distracted by watching you scan in your own deli meat at the self-checkout, that I forgot to ask your name down. And you were so intent on asking me about your flycatchers, that you kept trying to scan the same package of meat over and over. The surly invisible women, who lives inside the self-checkout, kept barking at you to “move your Danish ham to the belt.” I had to quickly call your attention to what she was saying or she would have gotten upset and, believe me, you never want to get the invisible self-checkout woman upset with you. She’s not to be messed with.

Good for you Line Lady for getting nesting flycatchers. I’ve always been amazed at how few Great Crested Flycatcher nest boxes we sell each year. Everyone seems ready to auction-off one of their lungs in order to have a pair of bluebirds nest in their yard, yet they totally ignore one of our more interesting and distinctive summer birds. When you think about it, bluebirds don’t have much going for them, other than their stunning good looks, which is something that I can identify with. But Great Crested Flycatcher are the complete package. They are totally entertaining to watch, they are abundant in the right habitat, they come to our yards and nest in birdhouses, plus they are attractive too. I don’t know what more we could ask for. So what’s the problem?

For one thing, most causal bird watchers aren’t particularly interested in flycatchers and I guess I can’t blame them. Many flycatchers are so similar and generic looking that most people can’t be bothered figuring them out. But the Great Crested Flycatcher is so not like those other boring flycatchers . It has rusty cinnamon wings and tail, a gray breast, bright yellow on the belly and a brush-cut hairdo, which gives the bird its descriptive name. In addition to its unique look, this flycatcher has a crisp, clear, raucous, “whee-eep” call that is so loud that it makes Blue Jays sound like a librarian.

Out of the dozen or so flycatchers that are regularly found in the East, the Great Crested is the only one that nests in cavities. That means, just like bluebirds, this flycatcher will use a birdhouse. If we offer them the right kind of box we too can have this interesting bird living in our yards, just like you do Line Lady. The problem is that most real nest boxes are made to attract bluebirds. And the opening of a bluebird house is too small for the slightly larger flycatcher. It seems the only way this flycatcher can find a nest box to use is if some other creature like a gray squirrel unwittingly enlarges the hole for them. Good lo’ gray squirrel, their goodness knows no bounds.

Anyone who is inclined to buy or build a nest box for a Great Crested Flycatcher the entrance hole should be around 2″. If you live an area that has problems with starlings, then the you should make the hole 1-9/16″. The smaller hole should allow the flycatchers to squeeze in, while it excludes the starlings.

Great Crested Flycatchers only produce one brood each year. Once they leave the nest the young birds never return. Thus, the second batch of birds that you saw moving into your nest box has nothing to do with the original family. More than likely it was a pair of flycatchers that had lost its first brood to predators and was giving it another try. The fact that you had two pairs using the same box in the same year further supports my comments that we may be building too many bluebirds boxes while ignoring a bird that is just as cool. You are lucky, Line Lady, to have had two different families of Great Crested Flycatchers in your yard. They are fun birds to have around. I hope you enjoy them. If you have any more questions about them, please ask. I’m usually at the self-checkout at Stop and Shop every Friday night. I have a little something going on with the surly invisible women who lives inside the self-checkout.