Living Bird Magazine
Great Crested FlycatcherMyiarchus crinitus
- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Tyrannidae
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.More ID Info
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.
- Copetón Viajero (Spanish)
- Tyran huppé (French)
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, so consider putting up a nest box to attract a breeding pair. Make sure you put it up well before breeding season. Attach a guard to keep predators from raiding eggs and young. 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. Find out more about nest boxes on our Attract Birds pages. You'll find plans for building a nest box of the appropriate size on our All About Birdhouses site.
- Cool Facts
- Great Crested Flycatchers weave shed snakeskin into their nest. Where it's readily available, as in Florida, nearly every nest contains snakeskin. They also seem to look for flimsy, crinkly nest materials—they’ve also used onion skins, cellophane, or plastic wrappers.
- Though they’re flycatchers, these birds also eat a fair amount of fruit. Instead of picking at the flesh of small fruit, Great Crested Flycatchers swallow the fruit whole and regurgitate the pits, sometimes several at a time.
- Where other insect-snatching birds like Eastern Wood-Pewees, Least Flycatchers, Acadian Flycatchers, or Eastern Phoebes share their habitat, Great Crested Flycatchers exploit a niche higher in canopy to avoid direct competition for food. High up, they swoop out farther for prey, using multiple dead-branch perches.
- When the male sings, it's to be heard, not to see or be seen. He picks a singing perch within the canopy, well away from branch ends. In contrast, hunting perches require an unobstructed view of potential prey and unobstructed flight paths to them, whether the prey are in the air or on leaves or twigs. Both sexes favor hunting from dead branches with a backdrop of foliage for cover.
- Nestlings rarely return to breed near where they were born. But once yearlings have chosen a breeding area, they often return to that same area year after year. Some pairs re-establish their bond from the previous season and may even reuse the same nesting cavity.
- Great Crested Flycatchers live along the edges between habitats; they don't need big stretches of unbroken forest canopy to thrive. That means that logging and development practices that increase forest fragmentation actually work to their advantage, in sharp contrast to birds that dwell deep in the forest.
- The Great Crested Flycatcher is a bird of the treetops. It spends very little time on the ground, and does not hop or walk. It prefers to fly from place to place on the ground rather than walk.
- The Great Crested Flycatcher makes the same "wee-eep" calls on the wintering grounds that it makes in summer.
- The oldest recorded Great Crested Flycatcher was at least 14 years, 11 months old when it was found in Vermont in 1967. It had been banded in New Jersey in 1953.