Flycatchers

These birds sit on a prominent perch watching for insects in their vicinity. They fly out, catch their prey on the wing and then return usually to the same perch. I call them fly out and catch - FOAC birds. These birds account for 735 of the worlds species.

It appears likely that some of the birds in the orders Piciformes and Coraciiformes evolved about 60 mya. The two sub-groups discussed below belong to two separate lineages which evolved in the New World and Old World regions respectively. Both these sub-groups are specialised flycatchers.

Jacamar%20%28Rufous-tailed%20Jacamar%202%29.jpg

New world Jacamars (18 species) and Old World Bee-eaters (26 species).

These birds are insect chasers specialising in catching bees and wasps. Butterflies and Dragonflies are beaten against the perch to remove the wings before the prey is swallowed. The Rufous-tailed Jacamar (right) was photographed in Trinidad.

Bee-eater%20%28Rainbow%20Bee-eater%204%29.jpg

Bee-eaters are found in Africa, Australasia and two or three in Europe. The Rainbow Bee-eater (left) was photographed in Brisbane, Australia.

New World - Tyrant Flycatchers (431 species).

The birds in family Tyrannidae are well represented in the Americas showing great diversity in terms of habitats and behaviour. This family has species in about 100 genera.

At breeding time closely related species in the same region are often very specific in their choice of habitat and this information can be used to relate species to niches.

All Tyrannids are insectivores but many will also take small berries depending on seasonal availability. They may take food from the ground but they prefer to fly from one place to another.

Some of the larger Flycatchers can be seen to beat their prey against a perch. Birds in genus Empidonax hold their prey down and peck at it with their beak.

I have presented these birds, according to the main habitats in which they are found, in three sub-groups as follows:-

  • Deep woodland and forest (59.2%).

Western Wood- Pewee, Eastern Wood Pewee, Yellow-billed, Least, Hammond’s, Willow Flycatcher. Within this sub-habitat riverine and swampy woodland, ravines and gorges are favoured by Acadian, Alder, Cordilleran, Flycatchers. Black, Eastern and Say’s Phoebe, Great Kingbird.

  • Open areas with scattered trees (27.2%).

Ash-throated Flycatcher, Couch’s, Cassin’s, Western and Eastern Kingbirds and Scissor-tailed Flycatcher.

  • High altitude often coniferous forest (13.6%).

Olive-sided, Grey and Dusky Flycatchers.

Northern Tufted Flycatcher (right).

Flycatcher%20%28Northern%20Tufted%20Flycatcher%204%29.jpg

This rare Mexican Flycatcher caused great excitement in the birding community when it appeared in Arizona for only the second time.

It was only the fourth time that it had been seen in the entire USA. People were flying in to Arizona specifically to see this bird!

It is a bird of the highlands found at forest edges and in clearings with a few trees. We were extremely lucky because it was found at Herb Martyr Dam near Portal where we were staying.

Our first attempt to find this bird early in the morning on 13th May 2008 failed but later in the morning information from other birders suggested that we had not gone quite far enough along the gorge.

Sure enough at 1144 we found it!! I took a few photographs which were not bad but a few seconds later the bird moved slightly and Tom G. got this excellent image.

Old World – Flycatchers (121 species).

Family Muscicapidae has species in about 15 different genera. Characteristically they choose prominent perches where they watch and wait usually very still before flying out to catch their prey.

I have presented them in three sub-groups as follows:-

  • Deep woodland and forest (86.5%).

European Pied, Collared, Semi-collared, Yellow rumped, Slaty backed, Rufous chested Flycatchers. Within this sub-habitat low to mid-level foliage is favoured by Asian brown, Ashy breasted, Olivaceous and Cassin’s Flycatcher.

  • Bush and open woodland (7.5%).

African grey, Pale, Ashy, Spotted, Gambaga, African Dusky, Lead-coloured, Grey Throated Flycatchers.

  • Highland areas usually at forest edge (6.0%).

Southern, Northern, Black, Yellow-eyed Flycatchers.

Habitat and behaviour can be a useful guide to species seen in the UK and Europe:-

Spotted Flycatcher perches upright in exposed positions on tops of trees and bushes as well as within the canopy but at the edges of the woodland or forest.

Flycatcher%20%28Pied%20Flycatcher%202%29.jpg

European Pied Flycatcher (left) perches in a more horizontal fashion in less exposed positions. Tends to favour the cover of the leaves in the canopy half way up to treetop height. Favours mature oak trees.

Collared Flycatcher very shy and difficult to see. Favours the canopy when breeding. Found only in deciduous woodland, mainly oak trees. Seldom seen on the ground.

Red-breasted Flycatcher secretive and difficult to see. Breeds in forests with lush, dense areas of undergrowth often near to streams. Behaves more like a Warbler in that it gleans insects from leaves. Other Flycatchers don’t do this.

Fantails (44 species).

These are small insectivorous birds of Australasia, Southeast Asia and the India, belonging to the family Rhipiduridae. They move through vegetation using tail movement to flush out hidden prey which is pursued and consumed.

Although the Willie Wagtail does not catch insects in flight I find it convenient to include it here. It performs a terrestrial version of the fanning technique, pumping its tail from side to side and undertaking quick darting movements across open ground in order to flush out prey.

Monarchs (95 species).

Most of the birds in family Monarchidae are found in forest and woodland habitats. Species that live in more open woodlands tend to live in the higher levels of the trees but, in denser forest, they live in the middle and lower levels. Their tails are constantly quivering and opening / closing to disturb insects which they then catch in flight.