Great Crested Flycatcher

by Kyle Sweet, CGCS

The Great Crested Flycatcher is a little bird with a big name that you’re likely to see year-round throughout Southwest Florida, including on our bird abundant barrier islands. It is often more easily heard than seen, but if you want to greatly improve your chances of seeing them, incorporating a nest box into your landscape will certainly help. My good friend Brian Beckner, owner of a very unique company, Native Bird Boxes, will be glad to help if you are looking for just the right nest box. Brian keeps busy at golf courses, parks and many residences all around Southwest Florida. His adventures can be found on social media via YouTube, Facebook or Instagram. You can reach him by email at I’m proud to say that we’re adding a few new nest boxes of Brian’s to your new home here on Sanibel soon!

The preferred habitat of the Great Crested Flycatcher is dense, leafy forests, where flycatchers live within the canopies of the trees.

They forage mostly up in the canopy by flying from perch to perch to grab insects either in mid-air or those insects that are making their way along foliage or branches. Occasionally, the flycatcher will travel to the ground to forage for insects, but this is not often seen.

The feed on a variety of insects, including caterpillars, moths, butterflies, katydids and beetles. They will also feed on spiders and lizards as well as fruits and berries, this is especially true for the flycatchers in the tropics.

Due to our warm winter season, we can enjoy the Great Crested Flycatcher throughout the winter months here in Southwest Florida. However, most of the country misses this flycatcher as it migrates south, from Mexico to Colombia, escaping the cold winter season of the north. Like many other migratories, they migrate mostly at night for their trek.

Great Crested Flycatchers are cavity nesters, nesting in holes in trees. The cavity can be a natural tree cavity, an old woodpecker hole or a previously mentioned next box. Usually, they nest from 20-50’ above ground with both sexes working to build the nest. Large amounts of material are brought to the cavity as the flycatcher brings the nest up close to the level of the entrance. The nest is made up of a variety of materials, including grass, bark and feathers and usually also includes a piece of snake skin in the lining. Research was done in Georgia several years ago about this phenomenon of birds placing snake skins in the nest. Why was this happening and what was the benefit. The research showed that it was placed as a deterrent for flying squirrels that would invade the nests. Snakes feed on squirrels and the birds are clever enough to give the squirrels a scare. I the study, none of the nests that had snake skins incorporated into them were lost to squirrels, whereas 20% of the nests that did not were lost to squirrels. Now we just need to find out how the birds are so proficient in finding snake skins!

I encourage you to go well beyond the brief bit of information provided in my weekly “ Sweet Shots”. Check out the song of the Great Crested Flycatcher online. Like I said earlier, they are most often heard than seen and I’m betting you’ll recognize the call of this little bird with the big name. Enjoy!

Four Keys to ID

1. Size and Shape – Large flycatcher with long, lean proportions. They have broad shoulders, a large head, a wide tapered bill and a long tail.
2. Color Pattern – Brown- gray head, gray throat and breast and a bright lemon – yellow belly. They have a black bill that sometimes shows a bit of pale color at the base.
3. Behavior – They are sit and wait predators, dropping in from high perches after large insects. After grabbing their meal, they often return to the same perch or one just nearby.
4. Habitat – Preferred wooded areas either dense or open, particularly among deciduous trees.

Cool Facts: The Great Crested Flycatcher is a bird of the tree tops. It spends very little time on the ground and does not hop or walk. It prefers flying from place to place on the ground in lieu of walking.

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