Natural History Notes on the Birds

Songbirds 1

Flycatchers

Back to Home
Anti disestablishment
Anti disestablishment
Lesson Plans

About the categories

Name

Common name

Food

The main food category.

Feeding Techniques

How it acquires its food.

Habitat

What kind of area does the bird live?

Plumage

Is there similarity between the male and the female, between winter and spring, young and adult, or are there variations in the plumage amongst the species.

Distribution

Approximately where it is found in the United States.

Breeding

Unique aspects on how the species breeds.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Special notes on the status or natural history of this bird.

Notes from A. C. Bent

Selections from the Life Histories of North American Birds, edited by A. C. Bent.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography
Name

Western Kingbird
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects

Feeding Techniques

Searches for food from a perch and then flies out to catch the insect.

Habitat

Open country, agricultural areas

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Western US

Breeding

Nest is built by both sexes in a variety of locations.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Behavior: I cannot do better than to quote the following well chosen words of Mrs. Bailey (1902b) on the behavior of this spirited bird: 

The Arkansas (Western) kingbird is a masterful, positive character, and when you come into his neighborhood you are very likely to know it, for he seems to be always screaming and scrimmaging. If he is not overhead twisting and turning with wings open and square tail spread so wide that it shows the white lines that border it, he is climbing up the air claw to claw with a rival, falling to ground clinched with him, or dashing after a hawk, screaming in thin falsetto like a scissor-tail flycatcher. A passing enemy is allowed no time to loiter but driven from the field with impetuous onslaught and clang of trumpets. Be he crow, hawk, or owl, he is escorted to a safe distance, sometimes actually ridden by the angry kingbird, who, like the scissor-tail, enforces his screams with sharp pecks on the back.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography
Name

Eastern Kingbird
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects

Feeding Techniques

Searches for food from a perch and then flies out to catch the insect.

Habitat

Open country, agricultural areas

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Found in most states except California, Arizona

Breeding

Usually built by female in large shrub or low tree

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Courtship: Ralph Hoffmann (1927) says that the kingbird's "mating performance consists in flying upward, and then tumbling suddenly in the air, repeating the maneuver again and again, all the time uttering its shrill cry." Dr. Charles W. Townsend (1920a) says of it: "The Kingbird executes a series of zig-zag and erratic flights, emitting at the same time a harsh double scream. This is a true courtship flight song."

These flights take place at no great height from the ground: 15 or 20 feet, perhaps, above the top of an apple tree. The dives are usually short, quick dips, accompanied by accented notes, and in between them the wings flutter jerkily as the bird rises again or progresses a short distance on a level. Occasionally, however, the dip is much deeper: a long, slow dive. I find in my notes of July 28, 1909, that I observed their curious flight evolutions many times. They flew out from a treetop, half flying and half hovering, then, with wings almost still, but just quivering, they slowly dropped almost to the ground, the while jerking out in a high, squeaky, tremulous voice their ki-ki-ki, etc.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Cassin's Kingbird
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects

Feeding Techniques

Searches for food from a perch and then flies out to catch the insect.

Habitat

Desert

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Southwest

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Arkansas Kingbird (T. verticalis) is an older name for Western Kingbird.

Notes from A.C. Bent

This is another yellow-breasted kingbird, somewhat resembling the Arkansas kingbird and occupying some of the western, and more especially southwestern, range of the latter. The range of vociferaris is not nearly so extensive as that of verticalis, and its local habitat is often quite different. The two species are often found in the same general habitat, especially during the migration periods, but during the breeding season and to a certain extent at other seasons Cassin's ranges higher in the foothills and the mountains than the Arkansas kingbird. We found Cassin's kingbirds very common, in April and May, in the lower portions of the canyons, among the large sycamores, in the Catalina and Huachuca Mountains in Arizona. Harry S. Swarth (1904), referring to the Huachucas, says: "I have occasionally, but not often seen the birds as high as 7500 feet, and found one nest quite at the mouth of the canyon, 4500 feet; but as a rule the territories occupied by this species and verticalis during the breeding season hardly overlap." The majority of the nests he found were between 5000 and 6000 feet. Referring to its range in the Catalinas, W. E. D. Scott (1887) writes: "At the higher Limits of its range in the breeding season: about 9000 feet: it is much more common than T. verticalis, though the reverse is true as regards the lower limit of its range: about 8500 feet: in the breeding season." Dr. Alexander Wetmore (1920) says that at Lake Burford, N. Mex., "they frequented rocky hillsides where scattered Yellow Pines rising above the low undergrowth made convenient perches from which to watch for insects and look out over the valleys."

Henshaw (1875) found it frequenting open country in Arizona and New Mexico, saying, "I have seen it much on the sage brush plains, though never very far from the vicinity of timber; and the sides of open, brushy ravines seem to suit its nature well."

In California, its distribution is more or less irregular, where it seems to be less of a mountain species than in other places, for W. L. Dawson (1928) says: "Cassin's Kingbird, at the nesting season, barely exceeds the upper limit of the Lower Sonoran faunal zone; and it is not even mentioned in t.he exhaustive reports on the San Jacinto and San Bernardino mountain regions. It is apparently of very irregular distribution over the two California deserts, and in the lowlands of the San Diego-Santa Barbara region."

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Least Flycatacher
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects

Feeding Techniques

Searches for food from a perch and then flies out to catch the insect.

Habitat

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Eastern United States

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Food: Professor Beal (1912) says of the least flycatcher: "It is a typical flycatcher in food habits, but like most others of the family it does not take all of its food upon the wing. The writer has seen one scrambling about on the trunk of a tree and catching insects from the bark like a creeper." In his study of the food, 177 stomachs were examined taken within the months from April to September. "The food consisted of 97.83 per cent of animal matter and 2.17 of vegetable. * * * Hymenoptera are the largest item, * * * 41.10 per cent. * * * Three stomachs were entirely filled with ants and four with other Hymenoptera. parasitic species were eaten to the average extent of 11.66 per month. * * ~ This percentage is higher than is desirable."

He lists 67 species of beetles as identified in the food, but useful beetles amount to only 1.41 percent, and harmful beetles total 19.94 percent. The average for Hemiptera is 11.12 percent, for Diptera 11.34 percent, for Orthoptera 2.59 percent, and for Lepidoptera, beth moths and caterpillars, 7.27 percent. "Ephemerids found in one stomach, dragon flies found in 3, and an unidentified insect in 1, make up 0.95 per cent. One stomach was entirely filled with a large dragon fly. Flycatchers are among the comparatively small number of birds expert enough to catch dragon flies on the wing, and these insects are too wary to be taken sitting. Spiders are eaten to a small extent in every month in the season * * * 2.11 per cent."

Of the vegetable food he says: "Fruit amounts to 1.83 per cent, and consists of Rubus seeds found in 2 stomachs, elderberry seeds in 2, pokeberry seeds in 1, rough-leaved cornel in 1, and fruit skins not further identified in 4. Various seeds were contained in 6 stomachs, and rubbish in 3; altogether they amount to 0.34 per cent."

W. L. McAtee (1926) says that "insects injurious to woodlands which are eaten by this flycatcher include carpenter ants, gipsy moths, click beetles, leaf beetles, nut weevils, tree hoppers, leaf hoppers, and leaf bugs." To this list might be added cankerworms, or inchworms, which it catches in the air as the worms spin down to the ground on their webs. The bird also picks off many of these and other caterpillars from the leaves while hovering in the air.

Dr. Dickey writes (MS.) : "Once a flycatcher performed a singular, spiral flight, a distance of 8 yards, to pursue over a little glade a speeding beefly (Bombycillus). They are prone to approach spider webs and small caterpillars that dangle from silken cords. They lean out from twigs and cleanse the webs of these desiderata. They even mount high in dead branches, scan the nooks and corners, and show by their every movement that they are finding the nourishment conducive to their sprightliness. Rarely I observed a flycatcher pass close to the ground, brush almost the tops of sickle sedges, and snap some stray bug, then return to an alder branch to devour it."

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography
Name

Pacific-slope Flycatcher
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects

Feeding Techniques

Searches for food from a perch and then flies out to catch the insect.

Habitat

Riparian woods

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Pacific states

Breeding

Female builds small grassy nest

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Empidonax group - refers to a genus of birds that includes 11 species that are all very similar in appearance. They are very difficult to identify in the field.

Western flycatcher - a former name for the Pacific-slope Flycatcher.

Notes from A.C. Bent

Behavior: There seems to be nothing peculiar in the behavior of the western flycatcher, as compared with the other small flycatchers of the Empidonax group. Both parents are devoted to the defense of their home and family, and the male stands guard nearby while the female is incubating and drives away any other birds that venture too near the nest. Mr. Pearse tells me that the flight is hesitating, like that of the kingbird. I am not acquainted with the bird in life.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography
Name

Gray Flycatcher
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects

Feeding Techniques

Searches for food from a perch and then flies out to catch the insect.

Habitat

High desert, sagebrush, mesquite

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Great basic states - interior western states

Breeding

Female builds small grassy nest

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Behavior:

Ralph Hoffman (1927) writes: "It shares this domain (sage-brush plains) with the Sage Thrasher and the Brewer Sparrow; the latter glean their food from the ground or the bushes themselves, but the Gray Flycatcher, perched on the top of a tall sage-bush, watches the air for its prey. When a Gray Flycatcher is started, it dives from its perch and in its flight keeps well down among the brush. Its song is more emphatic and less varied than either the Hammond's or the Wright's. It has only two elements, a vigorous chi-wip and a fainter cheep in a higher pitch. These two notes are used in a variety of combinations, but when once they are heard, the Gray Flycatcher can be instantly recognized. The call notes are a sharp whit, like a Traill's and a liquid whilp which passes into a gurgling note, similar to that of several of the other small Flycatchers."

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Western Wood Pewee
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects

Feeding Techniques

Searches for food from a perch and then flies out to catch the insect.

Habitat

Riparian woodland

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Western states

Breeding

Female builds small grassy nest

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Food: Professor Beal (1912) reports on the contents of 174 stomachs of the western wood pewee, in which 99.93 percent of the food was animal matter and only 0.07 percent vegetable. Beetles of 19 species amount to 5.44 percent, of which only 0.95 percent are useful beetles, ladybird beetles, and predaceous ground beetles. Hymenoptera, wasps, bees, and ants amount to 39.81 percent of the food and were found in 107 stomachs,17 of which contained no other food. Parasitic species were noted in 8 stomachs and ants in 10. No trace of a honeybee was found, and he never heard any complaints against the bird on this score. Diptera (flies) seem to be the largest item of the food, amounting to 44.25 percent. They were found in 162 stomachs, 30 of which were entirely filled with them. They included horse flies, snipe flies, crane flies, robber flies, and house flies. Hemiptera amount to only 1.79 percent, and no trace of grasshoppers or crickets was found. Moths were found in 24 stomachs and caterpillars in 5, making an average of 5.17 percent for the season. Dragonflies, lacewinged flies, Mayflies, white ants, and spiders together make up 3.47 percent, the remainder of the animal food.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Greater Pewee
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects

Feeding Techniques

Hunts from a perch

Habitat

Coniferous forest

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Found in Mexico, but does wander into southern Arizona

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

The Greater Pewee used to be named Coues's Flycatcher.

Notes from A.C. Bent

Food

I can find no definite information on the food of Coues's flycatcher, which probably does not differ materially from that of the other flycatchers of the region where it lives; it apparently lives on any kind of flying insects that it can find, as it can repeatedly be seen darting out into the air in pursuit of them from its perches in the trees. Living as it does, so far away from human habitations, its food habits cannot be of much economic importance.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Eastern Wood-Pewee
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects

Feeding Techniques

Hunts from a perch

Habitat

Woodlands

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Eastern United States

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Nesting: The nest of the wood pewee is a dainty little structure, harmonizing so closely with the surroundings that our eye may easily pass along the limb to which the nest is bound without detecting it. The nest seems tiny for the size of the bird, sits close to the branch: the bottom thin, the walls low and thick, and the outside is sheathed with bits of lichen.

The site of the nest is generally on a small limb, often dead and patched with lichens, commonly at a height of about 20 feet, in or near a level fork well out from the trunk of the tree.

Bendire (1895) states that the bird "shows a decided preference for open, mixed woods, free from underbrush, and frequents the edge of such as border on fields, clearings, etc., either in dry or moist situations," and that "an average and typical nest of the Wood Pewee measures 2 3/4 inches in outer diameter by 1 3/4 inches in depth; the inner cup is about 1 3/4 inches wide by 1 1/4 inches deep."

Arthur C. Bent writes in his notes: "Most of the nests that I have seen have been on horizontal, lichen-covered limbs of old apple trees in orchards, or on dead limbs of pitch pines in the Plymouth woods." The Plymouth woods is a dry, tangled wilderness, extending over many square miles in southeastern Massachusetts, overgrown with pitch pines and scrub oak and interspersed with small ponds.

Dickey (MS.), whose investigations were largely conducted in Pennsylvania, gives a long list of trees in which he has found wood pewees' nests. It includes oaks (white, red, and black), sugar maple, black walnut, yellow locust, elm, apple, and pear, generally in specimens of large growth. He has found a nest in a flowering dogwood tree only 8 feet above ground. He says that willows are used rarely, but he speaks of one nest in a partly dead willow tree five feet out from the main stem. Another nest was "in a stalwart sycamore, six feet through at the butt, in a horizontal fork 45 feet aloft and 18 feet out from the main bole."

Ira N. Gabrielson (1922) describes a nest "saddled on a long straight limb of an elm perhaps fifteen feet from the ground and about the same distance from the trunk of the tree. The only foliage on this branch was a spreading spray of leaves several feet beyond the nest. One would think that a nest so located would be easily discovered but such was not the case. While conspicuously located it was cunningly woven onto the branch and so thoroughly covered with lichens that I could scarcely believe it was a nest even after seeing the bird alight upon it. From below it looked to be simply a lichen-covered knot or a small fungus growth upon the limb and only after we were on a level with it did it seem at all conspicuous."

A. Dawes DuBois, describing in his notes a deserted nest, says: "Its inner lining consisted chiefly of stiff, curved, two-branched, wirelike stems resembling the fruit stems of the basswodd. tree: some of them 2 inches long. There were about 70 of these. There were also long, hairlike stems of plant fibers, other coarser stems, shreds of weed bark, some. 9 inches long, a piece of spider cocoon, and a 3-inch piece of string. At one spot, near the center, the branch itself served as the. bottom of the nest. The body of the structure was built of similar but coarser materials. No hair was used in this nest. The outside was well covered with lichens, firmly held in place by cocoon silk."

DuBois also stresses the point that, owing to the situation of the wood pewee's nest: i. e., directly on the bark of a horizontal limb and often not supported in a crotch: the nest must be fastened to the bark. This necessary anchorage is secured by the bird while building who "repeatedly wipes her bill from side to side along the limb, making the materials adhere to the bark."

Bendire (1895) says: "The inner cup of the nest is usually lined with finer materials of the same kind, and occasionally with a little wool, down of plants, a few horsehairs, and bits of thread," and he examined "a unique nest of this species, taken * * * from a horizontal limb of an apple tree, about 8 feet from the ground. * * * This nest, which is well preserved, is exteriorly composed entirely of wool. * * * It is very sparingly lined with fine grass tops and a few horsehairs, while a single well-preserved apple leaf lies perfectly flat and exactly in the center and bottom of the nest."

Ora W. Knight (1908) reports that the male "does not seem to do any active work, either at nest building or assisting in incubation, but I have however seen him feed the female more or less frequently while she was sitting."

The wood pewee appears to become attached to a group of trees and returns sometimes year after year to build its nest on the same branch. Katie Myra Roads (1931) gives an instance of this habit when she reports: "For thirty-five years a Wood Pewee's * * * nest has been placed in the same fork of an elm tree about forty feet from the ground.

Eggs: Major Bendire (1895) says: "From two to four eggs are laid to a set, generally three, and sets of four I consider rare." He describes them as follows:

The eggs of the Wood Pewee vary in shape from ovate to short or rounded ovate; the shell is close-grained and without gloss. The ground color varies from a pile milky white to a rich cream color, and the markings, which vary considerably in size and number in different sets, are usually disposed in the shape of an irregular wreath around the larger end of the egg, and consist of blotches and minute specks of claret brown, chestnut, vinaceous rufous, heliotrope, purple, and lavender. In some specimens the darker, in others the lighter shades predominate. In very rare instances only are the markings found on the smaller end of the egg.

The average measurements of seventy-two eggs in the United States National Museum collection is 18.24 by 13.65 millimetres, or about 0.72 by 0.54 inch. The largest egg of the series measures 20.07 by 13.97 millimetres, or 0.79 by 0.55 inch; the smallest, 16.51 by 12.95 millimetres, or 0.65 by 0.51 inch.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography
Name

Vermillion Flycatcher
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects

Feeding Techniques

Searches for food from a perch and then flies out to catch the insect.

Habitat

Water areas in arid habitats

Plumage

The male and the female different plumage.

Distribution

Southern California, southern Arizona, southern New Mexico and Texas

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Behavior: We found this flycatcher to be rather tame and unconcerned about our presence, flitting nervously from one perch to another, from some low tree or bush to a tall weed stalk and then back again, making frequent sallies after insects, or executing his spectacular nuptial flights. The male is a bold and fearless fighter in defense of the nest and rather aggressive against intruders. Mr. Dawson (1923) witnessed the following rather peculiar behavior: "In watching the antics of a certain Vermilion dandy, I saw him resort twice to a tiny fork on a horizontal branch, remote from any possible proximity of a mate, and indulge in a very peculiar set of motions, bowing and turning, and lying supine with outstretched wings and dangling feet. Careful reflection showed the act to be an outcropping, through suggestion, of what we call a secondary sex character, viz., a demonstration of the nest-building instinct, excited by the presence of an especially attractive site."

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Ash-throated Flycatcher
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects

Feeding Techniques

Searches for food from a perch and then flies out to catch the insect.

Habitat

Desert, brush, chaparral, dry open country

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Western states

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Field marks: In general appearance the ash-throated flycatcher most closely resembles our common eastern crested flycatcher, but the two are not likely to occur in the same region. A flycatcher resembling our eastern bird, but much paler in coloration, with a large, brown, bushy head, a conspicuous white throat, and a long, reddish brown tail, perching in an upright posture on some low tree or bush, is sure to be this species. It is smaller than the Arizona crested, as well as paler, and larger than the olivaceous flycatcher. The two western kingbirds have black or dark brown tails and brighter yellow under parts, as well as gray breasts.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Say's Phoebe
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects

Feeding Techniques

Searches for food from a perch and then flies out to catch the insect.

Habitat

Desert, brush, chaparral, dry open country

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Western US

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

This large phoebe, clad in pleasing shades of gray and brown, sharply contrasted with its black tail, replaces throughout a large portion of western North America our familiar eastern phoebe, which it resembles in many of its haunts and habits. It is as much at home among the western ranches as our eastern bird is about our New England barnyards, equally fond of human company, and often building its nest on or about, or even in, the rancher's buildings. It is a wide-ranging species, breeding as far north as central Alaska and as far south as northern Mexico. It is a summer resident only in the northern portion of its range, where it is one of the earliest arrivals in the spring, but it is found all winter in southern California, Arizona, and New Mexico.

Say's phoebe is a bird of the open country, the prairie ranches, the sagebrush plains, the badlands, the dry, barren foothills, and the borders of the deserts, where it can forage widely over the stunted vegetation, or perch on some low bush or tall weed stalk to watch for its insect prey. But it is also found in the mouths of canyons or rocky ravines, perched on some commanding boulder as a watchtower. It has no special fondness for watercourses, or for rich agricultural lands, and is seldom seen in heavily timbered regions. As the deeply shaded retreats are more favored by the somber-hued black phoebe, so are the open, sunny places more suited to this sandy-colored species; perhaps each is less conspicuous in its normal habitat.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Black Phoebe
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects

Feeding Techniques

Searches for food from a perch and then flies out to catch the insect.

Habitat

Open country near water; edge habitat; parks

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

California to Texas

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Pseudotsuya (sic) taxifolia - sic refers to the fact that the author of this section incorrectly cited the scientific name of the Douglas Fir tree which is Pseudotsuga taxifolia.

Notes from A.C. Bent

This species and the vermilion flycatcher are the only members of their family that may be considered substantially nonmigratory throughout most of their ranges within the United States. Their seasonal movements appear to be more in response to local conditions than to any general migratory urge. In many parts of southwestern California the black phoebe is the one resident flycatcher, Say's phoebe and Cassin's kingbird occurring mainly as winter visitants, and the remaining species as summer visitants or migrants. The black phoebe is only sparingly distributed over the interior or more arid portion of its territory, because of the scarcity of its preferred types of habitat Although the black phoebe is for the most part a bird of the lower altitudes in California, it is reported by various observers to nest occasionally at elevations of 4,000 to 6,000 feet, and Major Bendire (1895) writes: "Dr. Edgar A. Mearns, United States Army, informs me that he found a pair breeding at the reservoir from which the town of Tombstone derives its water supply, in Millers Canyon, Huachuca Mountains, southern Arizona, on July 31, 1894. This is located in the Douglas spruce zone (Pseudotsuya [sic] taxifolia), at an altitude of about 8,000 feet." The general withdrawal of the majority of the birds from the valleys or plains into the foothill canyons in spring, as noted by Bendire in southern Arizona, is undoubtedly represented to a certain extent throughout the entire range, but only in a limited degree on the Pacific slope.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Great Crested Flycatcher
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects

Feeding Techniques

Searches for food from a perch and then flies out to catch the insect.

Habitat

Wooded areas; edge habitat

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Eastern US

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

I have left until the last the consideration of the use of the castoff skins of snakes about which so much has been written. Almost everyone who has written anything about the crested flycatcher has touched on this subject. There can be no doubt that such old skins are often, perhaps generally, found in the nests, though they are usually found in small pieces and are often entirely lacking or replaced with something else of similar texture.

Fully 25 percent of the nests that I have personally examined have contained no pieces of snakeskin or any similar material. Mr. Vaiden tells me that "from a total of 37 nests examined in the past 30 years, snake skins have been found in only 14." On the other hand, Prof. Brooks (MS.) says of one nest: "The birds had evidently been unable to find the pieces of snakeskin, which they are accustomed to place in their nests, but in this case they had substituted three pieces of the yellowed outside skin of an onion. This is the only nest I have ever seen that did not contain at least one piece of snakeskin. I have identified the sloughed skin of the pilot blacksnake (Elaphe obsoleta), the black racer (Coluber constrictor), the common watersnake (Natrix sipedon) and one of the little green snakes. I saw in a nest a piece of snakeskin that bore the unmistakable checkerboard pattern of the housesnake (Lampropeltis triangulum) ."

In my experience the snakeskin is usually found in small pieces, more or less imbedded in the body of the nest or in the lining, but in some cases it is conspicuously displayed on the rim or left hanging in a long strip outside of the cavity. This has led to the oft-repeated theory that it is used as a "scarecrow" to frighten away predatory mammals, birds, reptiles, or other enemies. Frank Bolles (1890) was evidently convinced of the truth of this theory by the following circumstantial evidence, of which he writes:

In one instance, at Tamworth, New Hampshire, I found a nest with one egg in it but with no snake skin visible. I found it about 7 A.M. one beautiful day in early July, 1888. I touched the egg and handled the nest slightly. Shortly before sunset I looked a second time into the hollow limb where the nest was placed, and was much surprised, in fact somewhat startled, by what I saw. Forming a complete circle about the egg, resting, in fact, like a wreath upon the circumference of the nest cavity, was a piece of snake skin six or seven inches long. The part which had encased the head of the snake was at the front of the nest and was slightly raised. It may not be wise to found a theory upon a single fact, but from the moment I saw that newly acquired snake skin, placed as it was, I made up my mind that the Great Crested Flycatcher uses the skin to scare away intruders.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Great Kiskadee
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects

Feeding Techniques

Searches for food from a perch and then flies out to catch the insect.

Habitat

Thickets along water areas

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Southern Texas

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

The Great Kiskadee is listed as the Derby Flycatcher in Bent.

finny prey - fish

"kingbirding an unlucky black vulture" this refers to the Kiskadee harassing a Black Vulture as a kingbird would do by diving at it. The Eastern Kingbird's scientific name is Tyrannus tyrannus, which refers to its agressive nature.

Notes from A.C. Bent

Behavior: In flight the "bull-headed flycatcher," as it is sometimes called, somewhat resembles a kingfisher; it has even been referred to as a yellow-bellied kingfisher; the resemblance is even more striking as it sits quietly over some stream or pool, watching for its finny prey, or dives into the water to sieze some minnow or water insect. But, when not thus engaged, it is an active, noisy, nervous, and irritable bird, always ready to pick a quarrel. Mr. van Rossem (1914) writes:

In the city of San Salvador are a great many birds which are without doubt non-breeders (as only two nests were found in the city proper), even though they are mostly in pairs. These individuals, having nothing better to do, contrive to keep things lively by scrapping not only with each other but with anything that happens to attract their attention, such as a stray house-cat or a wandering hawk.

A favorite lookout is a tall flag pole or similar point of vantage, and this is taken possession of to the exclusion of all other birds, most especially of their own kind; in fact, the advent of another pair onto their preserve is the signal for a battle royal which generally ends as it should: in favor of the home team. From dawn till an hour or so after sunrise, and in the cool of the late afternoon and early evening, they are most active and noisy. Their call notes can then be heard in every Quarter of the city and the birds themselves are most in evidence, snatching flies over heaps of refuse in the gutters, hawking about the plazas, or 'kingbirding' an unlucky Black Vulture. Activity, though, is by no means confined to these periods. Birds may be found at almost any hour of the day.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Olive-sided Flycatcher
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects

Feeding Techniques

Hunts from a perch

Habitat

Wooded habitats with openings

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Primarily found in western states

Breeding

Nests in tree

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Behavior: The olive-sided flycatcher seems to prefer the solitudes of the forests to the vicinity of human habitations; the experience with it in Berkeley, California, was however, a notable exception to the rule. In its wilderness home each pair establishes a definite territory from which it drives away any other individuals of its own species and often shows hostility to some birds of other species. Verdi Burtch tells me that Clarence F. Stone saw a scarlet tanager drive one of these flycatchers from one of its perches; but the flycatcher returned later and drove the tanager away. It would probably attack any hawk, crow, or jay that came too near its nest, thoough no such case seems to be recorded. On the approach of a human intruder, it starts its alarm note, quip, quip, quip, repeating it constantly as it flies nervously about , alighting first on one tree and then on another within its chosen territory. From such actions the collector realizes that the nest is near and begins to hunt for it. If he climbs the tree to examine or rob the nest, the bird's activities are intensified; both birds may now attack the intruder, flying about excitedly, snapping their beaks, screaming incessantly, and even darting down at and almost striking the man's head. Some less bold birds are content to perch on nearby trees and scold, with crests erected, bills clicking, and tails wagging.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Eastern Phoebe
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects

Feeding Techniques

Searches for food from a perch and then flies out to catch the insect.

Habitat

Woodland edges; parks, farms

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Eastern US

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Pigeon Hawk is an older name for Merlin.

Liponyssus sylviarum = Northern Fowl Mite also Northern Feather Mite

Notes from A.C. Bent

Enemies: Perhaps the most serious of the phoebe's enemies are the parasites that often infest the nests and debilitate or kill the young birds. Manley B. Townsend (1926) speaks of a nest "containing four newly hatched young." "A week later," he says, "on examining the nest, I found only the desiccated bodies of the young birds. The nest was swarming with parasitic insects." Lewis O. Shelley (1936a) adds his testimony on this subject: "The first nestings are invariably pretty free from parasitic pests, but second nestings may be literally overrun with mites and possible third broods will often be forced prematurely into leaving the nest. I am of the opinion that mites invariably prevent Phoebes from raising a third brood."

Harold S. Peters (1933) found the mite Liponyssus sylviarum in the plumage of a phoebe sent to him by P. A. Stewart from Ohio.

Frederic H. Kennard (MS.) adds the raccoon to the phoebe's enemies. He says: "May 2, 1925. A raccoon broke up our phoebe's nest on the post of our woodshed last night. Eggs and nest lay several feet from the bottom of the post this morning. I had always supposed a screech owl was guilty in past years, but on making a close examination today, I found claw marks and a hair from a coon's belly stuck to the bark of the post."

William Brewster (1936) describes thus a dramatic incident in the life of a phoebe:

A male Pigeon Hawk suddenly appeared from we hardly knew whither and with the speed of an arrow glided on set wings, on a slightly declining plane, directly at the Phoebe.

That trustful little bird, swaying at ease on his slender perch, seemed so wholly unconscious of his fearful peril that we all thought him lost, but when the Falcon was within a foot of him he did the only thing that could possibly have saved him, viz, dropped like a ripe fruit nearly to the ground and then started directly for the barn cellar. The Hawk overshot him scarce more than four feet and, stopping and turning about with truly marvelous quickness, followed and overtook him before be had gone three yards but the Phoebe doubled short and abruptly and the little Falcon, apparently disgusted at his ill success, darted off down the hill-side towards the eastward, giving us a fine view of his ashy-blue back. Only a few minutes later the Phoebe was back on the same perch again. The whole episode was most impressive: happening as it did, at what might be called the very threshold of the Phoebe's home and during a rarely beautiful and peaceful May afternoon.

George Nelson tells me that at his home in Lexington, Mass., house wrens sometimes interfere with the breeding of his phoebes by. flinging the newly hatched birds from the nest. The phoebe is "one of the very commonest foster parents of the young Cowbird. In regions where both species are common, fully 75 percent of the nests contain eggs of both kinds," according to Friedmann (1929).

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects

Feeding Techniques

See below

Habitat

Open country

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

South-central US

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

oak mott - a small stand of oaks on a prairie

Notes from A.C. Bent

Behavior: When first seen sitting on a bush or telephone wire, with its long tail tightly closed and hanging straight down, the scissortailed flycatcher impresses one as a trim, neat bird of soft, pleasing colors and quiet mien. Or, as one flies in direct flight from one tree to another, with its long streamers trailing out behind, there is no indication of the flight gymnastics of this aerial acrobat. But, sooner or later, the observer will be treated to an exhibition, well worth watching, which has been so well described by Mrs. Florence Merriam Bailey (1902a) as follows:

One of his favorite performances is to fly up and, with rattling wings, execute an aerial seesaw, a line of sharp angled VVVVVVs, helping himself at the short turns by rapidly opening and shutting his long white scissors. As he goes up and down he utters all the while a penetrating bee-bird scream ka-quee - ka-quee - ka-quee - ka-quee - ka-quee , the emphasis being given each time at the top of the ascending line. * * * The head of a family we saw on the Nueces River one day was guarding his mate at the nest when another scissor-tail invaded his preserves. The angry guardian flew at him in fury, chasing him from the field with a loud noise of wings. At the first sound of combat the brooding bird's head appeared above the nest and hopping up on the rim she watched the chase with craned neck till the intruder with her lord and master close at his heels faded into white specks in the blue.

Another day we saw a scissor-tail in pursuit of an innocent caracara who was accidentally passing through the neighborhood. The slow ungainly caracara was no match for the swift-winged flycatcher and with a dash Milvulus pounced down upon him and actually rode the hawk till they were out of sight.

She writes of seeing a scissortail overtake a lark sparrow, which was pursuing an insect on the wing, and snatch the coveted morsel "from under its bill." She and her husband found these flycatchers really abundant in parts of the mesquite prairies of southern Texas. "Near Corpus Christi we once counted thirteen in sight down the road." But the largest number they ever saw together was in an oak mott between Corpus Christi and Brownsville, where these birds were roosting for the night. "At sundown, when Mr. Bailey shot a rattlesnake at the foot of a big oak in camp the report was followed by a roar and rattle in the top of the tree and a great flock of scissortails arose and dispersed in the darkness. They did not all leave the tree, apparently, even then, although some of them may have returned to it, for when daylight came to my surprise a large number of them straggled out of the tree. How one oak top could hold so many birds seemed a mystery. Before the flycatchers dispersed for the day the sky around the mott was alive with them careering around in their usual acrobatic manner making the air vibrate with shrill screams. Mrs. Margaret Morse Nice (1931a) witnessed the pretty picture of a flock of these beautiful birds taking their evening bath; she writes: "On a day in mid September a dozen or more of these lovely birds gathered in the little willows growing in a small pond; one by one they swooped down to the water, but came up without quite touching it. Finally one brave bird splashed its breast into the water, whereupon they all followed suit, sometimes singly, sometimes two or three at a time, darting down quickly: a sudden dip into the water and then up again. The colors on their sides and under their wings shone pink and salmon and ruby in the late afternoon light. It was a rarely beautiful sight: the exquisite birds in their fairy-like evolutions."

The scissor-tailed flycatcher is a swift flier; its powerful little wings vibrate so rapidly, almost a blur to the human eye, that its stream-lined body is propelled through the air with speed enough to overtake quickly the slower flying hawk or crow that ventures too near its territory; with vicious attacks from the dynamic little warrior the big intruder is driven from the scene, only too glad to beat a hasty retreat.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

 

Name

Dusky Flycatcher

Lesson Plan

Food

Insects

Feeding Techniques

Searches for food from a perch and then flies out to catch the insect.

Habitat

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Western United States

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Dusky Flycatcher was called the Wright's Flycatacher when Bent put together this report.

Notes from A.C. Bent

Behavior: Mr. Howsley says: "Wright's flycatcher is a friendly little soul, not altogether shy, although not allowing too much familiarity. Each pair occupies a separate territory and seems to respect the other's right by not trespassing unless inadvertently. The only instance I noted of one territorial inhabitant resenting intrusion from his neighbor was during the period following incubation, especially the early stages after hatching. Any bird, related or not, that comes in close proximity of the nest tree, is immediately put to flight by a vigorous attack, the parent uttering a rapid scolding note during pursuit."

 

Name

Lesson Plan

Food

Feeding Techniques

Habitat

Plumage

Distribution

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent