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Washburn: Great crested flycatcher is often heard, seldom seen

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The melody was diagnostic. A great crested flycatcher was singing from the treetops. As usual, I couldn’t see the bird. Inhabiting the uppermost layers of the dense summer canopy, the species’ whereabouts is usually obscured. This is one bird that is definitely more often heard than seen. Consequently, most folks are unfamiliar with Iowa’s largest flycatcher and would likely be surprised to learn how many were living nearby.

The flycatcher gets its name from the habit of “hawking” flying insects. Similar in size and somewhat similar in shape to the eastern kingbird, the great crested sports an olive back, rusty–colored tail, and a distinctive lemon-yellow belly. Great crested are cavity nesters, utilizing a variety of sites including natural cavities, abandoned woodpecker holes, nest boxes, and even open drainpipes or downspouts. If cavities are deep, birds will often fill them nearly to the brim with twigs, bark or coarse grasses. Once completed, the nest cup is furnished with feathers, fine greenery, and tattered strips of plastic sacks or cellophane food wrappers.

Feathering its nest

A great crested flycatcher prepares to add a soft feather to its completed nest bowl. Although a common inhabitant of Iowa woodlands, the great crested is a seldom seen summer resident. Although populations remain stable, most Iowans are unfamiliar with the species.

Flycatchers aggressively defend their territories and are usually successful at keeping nest competitors at bay. This, combined with the fact that the great crested will inhabit woodlands of all sizes, has allowed Iowa populations to remain stable. Although this year’s nesting cycle is complete for most pairs, the feather carrying bird in the attached photo is apparently giving nesting one last try before departing for the Central American wintering grounds.

Enjoy more wildlife tales online at Washburn’s Outdoor Journal at iawildlife.org/blog.

“If you don’t like the Iowa weather; wait five minutes and it will change.”

-Well known saying

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