Sunday, June 21, 2009

Summer Flycatchers Part 1

June is the slowest month for birding in central Texas, but if you get out early enough there are still many year-round-resident and summer-resident birds to enjoy. In the neighborhood right now we have 4 species of breeding flycatchers. Flycatchers are a family of birds that specialize in catching and eating flying insects. As a group they usually have an upright posture and like to perch on exposed branches or fence posts, making forays out to catch a bug and then returning to their perch to eat it. The 2 easiest species to find are Western Kingbirds and Scissor-tailed Flycatchers.

The Western Kingbird is a mid-sized bird with a gray head, grayish throat and breast, a yellow belly, dark wings, and a black squared off tail with white outer tail feathers. I got this picture of one in 2007 near where the footbridge on Lake Creek Trail is now.

The Scissor-tailed Flycatcher is almost the same size but has an extremely long black and white tail that scissors apart when it flies. Its head and breast are white and it has a light pink belly. Under its dark wings are bright pink patches that you usually only catch glimpses of as it flies -- it's a dramatic and beautiful bird to see. Its bright colors and long tail are exotic and tropical, and it's a common neighborhood summer resident! I got this picture of one on the T&C playing fields back in April of 2008:

Both of these species are only here in the summer. They winter in southern Mexico and along the Pacific coast and slope of Central America. Scissor-tailed Flycatchers breed in Texas and a few surrounding states, and Western Kingbirds breed over most of the western and central United States. Both prefer open habitat, with scattered trees or fences to perch and nest on. In the neighborhood I see these birds most often on Lake Creek Trail where it goes through the T&C playing fields, and at the new Parmer Village development. I also often see both species in (of all places) parking lots that have a few trees. It's fortunate for them that they can take advantage of such a common urban setting. Both species make very similar sounds, and often you can hear their single "quip" call notes before finding one on a nearby tree or fence.

These are fun birds to watch. Besides being so pretty, you can often watch them catch insects out of the air and then eat them at their perch. It's also not too hard to find their nests, often right in a large obvious tree in the middle of a field or parking lot. And they are very territorial and aggressive. It is not uncommon to see them chasing off other birds much larger than they are, including hawks, crows, and even Turkey Vultures! So go try to find these 2 species and let me know when you see them!


Casey said...

Yay -- my boys were having a debate over the birds we saw in the cypress trees in the Lowe's parking lot earlier this week. One boy thought they were goldfinches based on the yellow belly, the other boy insisted they were not. Turns out the 5-year old was right. They're western kingbirds!

Mikael Behrens said...

Hey that's great, glad I could help!

Anonymous said...

Great information Mikael. I can't wait for Part 2!