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Brown-crested Flycatcher Life History



Brown-crested Flycatchers breed in a remarkable variety of habitats across their huge range. In the southwestern U.S., they nest in stands of saguaro and organ pipe, mature woodlands along rivers, desert thorn forest, and lower portions of montane pine-oak woodlands, up to nearly 6,000 feet elevation. They also nest in well-wooded suburban areas, especially near waterways. Along streams and lower canyons, they favor mature stands with Fremont cottonwood, willows, Arizona sycamore, Arizona ash, Arizona cypress, juniper, netleaf hackberry, Arizona walnut, Arizona alder, and scrub oak. In thorn forest they use mesquite, catclaw acacia, and saltcedar (tamarisk), typically with some larger trees that provide cavities for nesting. In dry parts of South Texas, they nest among sugar hackberries, mesquites, and ashes; and in the Hill Country they use more lush stream habitats with black willow, eastern cottonwood, bald-cypress, and live oak. In Mexico and Central America, Brown-crested Flycatchers use similar habitat as in the United States, but also mangrove forests, second-growth forests, and lower-stature desert scrub habitats.

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InsectsBrown-crested Flycatchers eat mostly insects and other arthropods, which they capture in flight. During the breeding season, they hunt chiefly in the canopy, where they perch and watch for insects. When they spot prey, they fly swiftly to it, then hover briefly to snatch it from vegetation (seldom from the ground) or else seize it in midair. They usually perch to consume the prey, removing wings or legs of larger insects and softening them by beating them against the perch before consuming. They eat grasshoppers, katydids, cicadas, leafhoppers, beetles, bugs, spittlebugs, mantids, dragonflies, butterflies, moths, flies, lacewings, bees, wasps, spider wasps, ants, termites, and spiders. On rare occasions, they eat small lizards and hummingbirds. They also eat fruits and seeds, particularly in winter, including fruits of giant saguaro, cardon cactus, and guamuchil (kikar). Back to top


Nest Placement

CavityNests are set in tree cavities, including natural cavities, woodpecker nest cavities, and nest boxes.

Nest Description

Nests are bowls of material set at the bottom of the nest cavity, containing hair, fur, feathers, and often snakeskin.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:2-7 eggs
Number of Broods:1 brood
Egg Length:0.9-1.0 in (2.3-2.5 cm)
Egg Width:0.7-0.8 in (1.7-1.9 cm)
Egg Description:Creamy white or buff with reddish-brown markings.
Condition at Hatching:Naked and helpless.
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FlycatchingIn spring, male Brown-crested Flycatchers establish breeding territories that range in size from 1.25 to 21 acres, with larger territories typical of more arid habitats such as giant-cactus woodlands. They defend their territories aggressively, flying at other males that enter the territory. Once paired, both male and female will fight other pairs that enter. Pairs establish the nest site (usually an old woodpecker hole) almost as soon as they arrive on the nesting grounds. They defend their site vigorously against other cavity-nesting species such as Ash-throated Flycatchers and European Starlings. In some cases, the flycatchers actually evict birds that are nesting in a desirable hole, including Gilded Flickers and Bewick’s Wrens. Both adults bring nesting material to line the cavity. Females incubate the eggs, and both male and female feed the nestlings. The family remains together for about a month after the young fledge. Back to top


Low Concern

According to the North American Bird Breeding Survey, Brown-crested Flycatcher numbers grew substantially (by an estimated 3.5% per year) in the U.S. between 1968 and 2015, although this represents only a tiny fraction of the species' overall range. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 14 million and rates the species a 9 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of low conservation concern. Brown-crested Flycatcher would benefit from reforestation of riparian zones and control of introduced saltcedar.

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Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

Partners in Flight. (2020). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2020.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2019). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2019. Version 2.07.2019. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

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