Welcome to my world!

Backyard Birding in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas:
Surrounded by great birding destinations, our favorite patch is still the backyard (or the front), where we've seen more than 270 species of birds. Sit awhile, and watch the river and yard with us!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Brown-crested Flycatchers: Let's Do Lunch

Brown-crested Flycatchers are quickly becoming one of my favorite birds.  Right now they are our closest neighbors.  Every time I sit on the deck or walk out of the house, they are the first bird I see.

Our pair of these lively brown, gray, and yellow flycatchers built this year's nest in the bird house that hangs from a branch of the fiddlewood that grows in a patch of shrubs and small trees near the corner of the garage.  When they first set up housekeeping, I was afraid the hanging house was too close to human activity to make a good nesting spot, but they persevered.  (Here's a link to an earlier post about their arrival for the breeding season.)  Looking at the first photo above, it's obvious how they got their name: the hapless fly grasped in the flycatcher's strong fly-catching beak looks like one I photographed a while ago (the photo is in this post) and the brown crest, unlike the crests of some birds,  is always standing tall.

When we got home from vacation last weekend, I knew these guys were feeding young birds because of the constant comings and goings of the adults, legs and wings of some unfortunate insect poking out of their mouths.  It looks to me like the baby food of choice is katydids and mayflies, although any kind of flying insect seems to be attractive to them.  They perch and "pose" for a minute or so before flying into the bird house, probably checking for predators (me with my camera, I suppose).  As often as not, they sing or call, talking with their mouths full!

That's what this one to the left is doing. (You can tell it's singing because of  its puffed up throat, what poets call "full-throated.")  I love the song.  It sounds to me like "come over here; come over here!", with kind of a warbly and rolling, but at the same time slightly buzzy, quality. The call is a short "whit!". It's puzzling why they sing so close to the nest.  Sitting on a branch within just a few feet of the nest, They sing and then quickly slip into the box, brown tail sticking out slightly from the entry hole.  Click on the photo to see what treat this bird has for the babies.

Last summer Brown-crested Flycatchers nested in a birdhouse further out along the drive, a location they have chosen for about ten years.  Before that they nested in railroad ties turned on end that decorated the end of the drive by the road.  The first site was abandoned because it became so overgrown with bougainvillea and esperanza.  I can't see an obvious reason for abandoning the second site except that this new box must have just looked homier.

I just looked up information about the flycatchers on my iPhone Explorer Pro, a great iphone app, and found that a collective noun for them is a zapper of flycatchers.  That's appropriate!  They are better than a bug zapper, for sure, returning to the nest every few minutes with a katydid or cicada or fly.  (Cicadas here are called chacharras, which in Spanish is  onomatopoeic for the buzzy sound the insect  makes.  Here in the Rio Grande Valley the chicharra is so loud on summer nights that I have no hope of hearing Pauraques calling or coyotes howling. iPhone Bird Explorer says the flycatchers will catch female cicadas rather than males because of the loudness of the male's buzz.)

When Summer Tanagers migrated through the valley a couple of weeks ago, they sat in the same fiddlewood tree as the flycatchers and snapped at bees, which seems to be their favorite food.  Here's one of my favorite pictures (taken the first week I had my camera last fall) of a female tanager eating a bee.  You could clearly hear her strong tanager beak snap snap snap as she sat there in the tree.

I'm glad this is one photo I had saved already to my Picassa album, before the big computer crash.  It's another instance when I didn't discover what I was looking at until I examined the photo.  For some reason (maybe because I was struggling to figure out how the camera worked) I thought I was taking a picture of a female oriole and never even saw the bee in  the tanager's obviously tanager-beak until I looked at the photo!

I'll finish with another bird beak perfectly adapted to the task of getting its favorite insects, in this case smaller non-flying ones.  This is one of a pair of Ladderback Woodpeckers that are busy all day long in the yard, probing for insects under bark of mesquite trees and some non-native pines. The strong pointed beak is perfect for getting ants and other small bugs and larva.  I've also seen them eating cactus fruit after carving out a big piece with that perfectly adapted  beak.

I still haven't found what nest cavity the Ladder-backs are nesting in, but I'm on the trail and am sure it is close by.  I'll probably find it when they start bringing home carry-out  for the hungry nestlings.


KaHolly said...

Kay, such a delightful post today! I loved reading about the different birds' beaks and looking at your wonderful pictures. ~karen

Kay said...

Thanks, Karen! I love to show you my yard.

eileeninmd said...

Wow, I didn't realize that flycathcers would use a nest box. Very cool! Loved all your flycatcher photos. The female Tanager is a beauty!

Kay said...

Eileen, thank you! I originally put up the box about ten years ago for Black-crested Titmice who were nesting in weird places like the arm of the satellite dish and the metal rails of the boat trailer! The titmice ignored it but the flycatchers moved right in. Of course there's no telling if the birds that nest each year are the same ones that nested the year before (or their offspring--but they always seem to know just where to go.

ramblingwoods said...

Great selection...it made me remember to record that the belted kingfishers are back..saw one today. Love this time of year...Michelle

Kay said...

yes, this is a lovely season. Kingfishers are cool birds. Belted Kingfishers are the ones that leave here for the summer--maybe to visit you! I like how they seem to follow the boat (actually precede it, trying to stay ahead of us) when we fig in the arroyo.
Let me know how your kingfishers do and what dragons you are seeing. I just ordered aguide to dragonflies--I'm determined to learn them.

Kay said...

That's FISH in the arroyo--my iPhone keeps changing my words!! I need to proofread!