June 2, 2024
Great crested flycatchers are nesting in a box on my deck!


By  Mary Reid Barrow, Photos by Gibbs Barrow

The fickle pair of great crested flycatchers that visit every year have deigned to nest in the flycatcher box on my deck this spring.

The pair announces their return from their tropical vacation every year around the first of May, calling out their loud distinctive, “Wheep, wheep, wheep!”

“We are here. We are here!”

Bold and big, the great cresteds are almost as large as a robin and with their loud calls, they have an outsized presence in the neighborhood treetops.

Some years they choose my box to nest in and some years, they don’t. When they don’t, they probably settle for a natural tree cavity nearby though I have never seen where they nest if not in my box. There’s no rhyme or reason to the choice that I can see.

The handsome big birds are named for the grayish crest on their heads that leave them looking always surprised. Their backs are reddish brown  and their breasts, soft yellow.

The two are now coming in and out of the box. Something is afoot.

Though the box is only about 10 feet up on a post on the deck, they go about their business as we sit outside. One will perch on a nearby branch as if to wait until we turn our head and then pop into the nest hole.

Judging from past nests, this one will probably be a mess, full of all sorts of bits and pieces of trash.

One year a snakeskin hung out of the nest hole. I have read that snake skins are common bedding in flycatchers’ eclectic nests. It must be the flycatcher’s Beware of Dog sign warning other snakes or critters to stay away..

Great cresteds are insect eaters primarily, though they are known to eat fruit also. The birds use that same tree branch perch to keep an eye open for bugs and then zoom down to catch them. They often go for big ones, like dragon flies, and there are plenty of those in the yard now.

Once when I was sitting on the deck an intrepid flycatcher swooped right down in front of me, literally a foot or two away, to nab a dragon fly.  It headed up to the tree to tear it apart into baby size pieces.

When babies leave the nest, they fly out, instead of fluttering down like many baby birds. One year, I was lucky enough to see a baby launch from the box. In a synchronized move, the parent bird was right beside the baby when it popped out of the hole. The  parent flew with it to a nearby branch, close enough to its youngster to have carried it if it could.

So far, it’s just the comings and goings that we have seen, but I am thinking the birds will enter the box with their mouths full of insects before too long.

Then if things go well, that spectacular launch will be just a couple of weeks away.


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