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Great Crested Flycatcher

Myiarchus crinitus ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: TYRANNIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Great Crested Flycatcher Photo

A large, assertive flycatcher with rich reddish-brown accents and a lemon-yellow belly, the Great Crested Flycatcher is a common bird of Eastern woodlands. Its habit of hunting high in the canopy means it’s not particularly conspicuous—until you learn its very distinctive call, an emphatic rising whistle. These flycatchers swoop after flying insects and may crash into foliage in pursuit of leaf-crawling prey. They are the only Eastern flycatchers that nest in cavities, and this means they sometimes make use of nest boxes.

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Keys to identification Help

Flycatchers
Flycatchers
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Great Crested Flycatchers are large flycatchers with fairly long and lean proportions. Like many flycatchers they have a powerful build with broad shoulders and a large head. Despite its name, this bird’s crest is not especially prominent. The bill is fairly wide at the base and straight; the tail is fairly long.

  • Color Pattern

    Great Crested Flycatchers are reddish-brown above, with a brownish-gray head, gray throat and breast, and bright lemon-yellow belly. The brown upperparts are highlighted by rufous-orange flashes in the primaries and in the tail feathers. The black bill sometimes shows a bit of pale color at the base.

  • Behavior

    Great Crested Flycatchers are sit-and-wait predators, sallying from high perches (usually near the tops of trees) after large insects, returning to the same or a nearby perch. Their clear, rising reep calls are a very common sound in summer.

  • Habitat

    Great Crested Flycatchers live in woodlots and open woodland, particularly among deciduous trees. On its tropical wintering grounds it occurs in similar semiopen habitats. Migrants can occur in nearly any wooded or shrubby habitat.

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Great Crested Flycatcher Range Map
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Similar Species

All flycatchers in the genus Myiarchus share the Great Crested Flycatcher’s yellow underparts, short crest, and rufous-brown accents in the wing and tail. Fortunately for identifcations, Great Crested Flycatchers do not overlap with other Myiarchus species over most of their breeding range. The Brown-crested Flycatcher of South Texas and farther south has a slightly longer bill than Great Crested. It also has a paler and more-extensive gray chest that does not contrast as strongly with its paler-yellow belly. The tail, when seen from below, is less extensively rufous-orange than the Great Crested’s tail, with more brown on the sides of the tail. The Ash-throated Flycatcher, which breeds in central Texas and westward, is smaller and paler overall than Great Crested. The bill is shorter and thinner; it is paler gary on the head and chest, and paler yellow on the belly than Great Crested. Other common Eastern flycatchers, such as Eastern Phoebes and Eastern Wood-Pewees, are more olive-green on the back and much whiter underparts. In late summer and fall, young Eastern Phoebes can have an extensive wash of yellow on the belly, inviting comparison to Great Crested. However, their heads are dark with contrasting white throats, and both wings and tail lack any suggestion of rufous or orange.

Backyard Tips

Like other birds that nest in cavities, Great Crested Flycatchers sometimes have trouble finding nest sites in places where tree holes are scarce. They quite readily take to nest boxes. For best results, mount a hanging or swinging nest box roughly 12 to 20 feet above the ground, in an open woodland with clear flight paths to the box opening. Visit our Nest Watch website for more suggestions and plans to make a Great Crested Flycatcher nest box.

Find This Bird

Great Crested Flycatcher are common, large, brightly colored flycatchers—but they spend much of their day very high in the leafy canopy of deciduous woods. If you live within their summer range, listen for this species’ loud, rising whistle before you try and track one down. Listen for them at forest edges as well as in city parks, golf courses, and tree-lined neighborhoods. Once you learn their distinctive call, you’ll gain an appreciation for how common and widespread they are and you can then start watching for the birds sitting on high, exposed perches or making fast flights after insect prey.