Thursday, July 7, 2011
Watching these great-crested flycatchers going about their business made me feel a little better about my life. They never sat still, either. Even when they paused in feeding or cleaning up after their young, they were always looking for the next insect to snatch in mid-air.
The rhythm of this old sycamore snag was so lovely, such a perfect spot for nesting flycatchers. This is eastern North America's only cavity-nesting flycatcher, which I suppose is because it's eastern North America's only flycatcher in the genus Myiarchus. Ash-throated and brown-crested flycatchers (also Myiarchus) nest in cavities in the West. I noted that the flycatchers had not added a trailing snakeskin to their nest. Most GCFL nests have something trailing out of the cavity. Popular speculation holds that the flycatchers are trying to "frighten off predators" with a snakeskin, but the first one I ever found, behind my house in Richmond, VA, had a long piece of pink attic insulation trailing out of the hole! They'll use plastic, bark...a lot of different materials, leading ornithologists to conclude that they just like to have something trailing out of the hole...I was privileged to watch that nest and even see the babies, perfect miniatures of the "Wheeps!" as we called their parents, line up on a branch outside the cavity to be fed.
North Bend's lake, less than a decade flooded, offers a paradise for cavity-nesting birds in its huge stand of dead trees, protected by several feet of water. This cuts down tremendously on snake and raccoon predation, and pretty much eliminates squirrel and mouse predation. It really is a Brigadoon for cavity-nesters.
I could tell the flycatcher babies were pretty old, both by their voices and by the size and coarseness of the insects being brought to them.
Not all the flycatchers' prey is winged. They do some gleaning, too. This might be a fishing spider, or a wolf spider. Whatever it is, it's a big 'un.
Imagine having something that leggy stuffed into your mouth.
With each delivery, the flycatchers took a drop-off.
Another fecal sac about to hit the water. Look at the beautiful rufous tail of the great-crested flycatcher..
More dragonfly on the way. The flycatchers followed a predictable pattern of perching, first pausing above the nest to assess the area, then dropping directly to the cavity.
Insert insect in slot.
Pause to consider your next move. Repeat.
The young will leave the nest at about Day 15, and be fed for about another three weeks. The literature says in general the young are flying strongly by that day. The only other option is a splashdown, and judging from the number of bass fishermen haunting the shallows, a struggling nestling wouldn't last long. I wish this beautiful family all the best. Feed 'em up!