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Great Crested Flycatcher


IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

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.


The male sings a three-part dawn song: two short, sweeping whistles (one low- and one high-pitched) and a low burry vibrato. The order of these sylllables can vary, and the whole song lasts about 3 seconds. The two upsweeping whistles resemble the whee-eep call (see Calls), but are more relaxed. The final note is sometimes absent or may be so soft it can only be heard by a nearby mate. Singing can become intense just before dawn: a male within the canopy may sing every two seconds in bouts of 15 to 30 minutes.


Males and females share four basic daytime calls. The most characteristic and frequent call is a loud, penetrating whee-eep whistle that rises quickly and ends abruptly. This call may serve as a contact call between a mated pair or between parents and young. But it is also given as a warning if either parent spots an intruder or predator nearing the nest. The simplest call is a shorter version of the whistle that's usually repeated rapidly 3-10 times. It indicates stress and excitement. A relaxed, slightly burry, vibrato all is given by foraging birds, when flying, or by mates to each other. It's the most common call between mates and may be a locator note. It's also tossed between distant neighbors, but is replaced by other calls if an encounter heats up. These three notes can be modified in pitch and duration, and also be strung together in multi-call bursts or "runs," along with a variety of less stylized calls.The fourth common call, a rasping or stuttering rurr, is the harshest sounding and indicates stress and alarm.

Other Sounds

When alarmed or very excited, including while repelling predators or pursuing intruders, Great Crested Flycatchers snap their bills loudly.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

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, 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.

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.



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