Great Crested Flycatcher

Myiarchus crinitus

Last updated: November 29, 2021
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff

This species makes use of some truly unusual nesting material, including snakeskin and garbage



Great Crested Flycatcher Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Aves
Order
Passeriformes
Family
Tyrannidae
Genus
Myiarchus
Scientific Name
Myiarchus crinitus

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Great Crested Flycatcher Conservation Status

Great Crested Flycatcher Locations

Great Crested Flycatcher Locations

Great Crested Flycatcher Facts

Prey
Insects, spiders, lizards, fruits, and berries
Fun Fact
This species makes use of some truly unusual nesting material, including snakeskin and garbage
Estimated Population Size
6.7 million
Biggest Threat
Habitat loss and poisoning
Most Distinctive Feature
The crest on the head
Wingspan
33cm (13in)
Incubation Period
13-15 days
Habitat
Woodlands
Predators
Snakes and squirrels
Diet
Omnivore
Type
Bird
Common Name
Great Crested Flycatcher
Number Of Species
1
Location
United States and Canada, Central and South America
Nesting Location
Tree cavities
Age of Molting
13-15 days
Migratory
1

Great Crested Flycatcher Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • Yellow
  • Blue
Lifespan
Up to 14 years
Weight
27-40g (0.9-1.4oz)
Height
17-21cm (6.7-8.3in)

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View all of the Great Crested Flycatcher images!



The great crested flycatcher is a fascinating and elegant songbird with a big crest on its head and a luxurious mating call. Often obscured by foliage and trees, it’s usually heard more often than it’s seen. This species is considered to be a member of the tyrant flycatcher family, a diverse group of birds entirely native to the Americas.

3 Amazing Great Crested Flycatcher Facts!

  • The great crested flycatcher is sometimes the victim of the brown-headed cowbird. “Brood parasitism” means that the interloper will lay its eggs in the flycatcher’s nest and hope the mother will raise the young as its own. Despite being raised by other birds, the cowbird still has its own species-specific calls.
  • The great crested flycatcher plays an important ecological role by controlling insect populations.
  • The flycatcher’s egg is colored creamy white to pink with brown, purple, or lavender spots.

Where to Find the Great Crested Flycatcher

The great crested flycatcher can be found in sparse woodlands and groves across the eastern United States and parts of Canada in the breeding season, then Central and South America in the winter. They tend to live near the edge of forests, around open plains. Old woodpecker holes and tree cavities are chosen by the female as a nesting site.

Great Crested Flycatcher Nests

The flycatcher’s nest is constructed high up in the canopy to avoid competition with other bird species. A large variety of nesting materials is used, including leaves, feathers, grass, string, fur, snakeskin, and trash.

Great Crested Flycatcher Scientific Name

The scientific name of the great crested flycatcher is Myiarchus crinitus. The name Myiarchus, a large genus of 22 species, is derived from the combination of two Greek words, meaning roughly “fly ruler.” Crinitus means long-haired or especially hairy (even though the species obviously doesn’t have hair).

Great Crested Flycatcher Size, Appearance, and Behavior

The great crested flycatcher is a medium-sized bird, measuring about 7 or 8 inches tall. It can be identified by the lemon-yellow stomach and the reddish-brown or blue-gray back, wings, and head. Other prominent features include the large crest and the long, narrow beak. Males and females are almost indistinguishable from each other, but juveniles are generally duller in color.

The great crested flycatcher is an agile flyer. It does the majority of its hunting in the air, usually around dawn or dusk, and does not come to the ground very often. This bird seems to be constantly on alert for intruders and threats, looking in all directions with its bobbing head.

The great crested flycatcher (Myiarchus crinitus) male perched near the nest.
The great crested flycatcher (Myiarchus crinitus) male perched near the nest.

Migration Pattern and Timing

Following the end of the breeding season, the great crested flycatcher migrates south for the winter. Most birds settle somewhere between Mexico and Colombia. They travel alone or in pairs.

Great Crested Flycatcher Diet

The great crested flycatcher is an omnivore. They often sit on a high perch and wait for prey to pass by so they can swoop down and eat it. They will also sometimes hover near a plant and snatch the prey in its beak. Almost none of their hunting and foraging is done on the ground.

What does the great crested flycatcher eat?

The flycatcher’s diet largely consists of insects. Some of its favorite foods include crickets, beetles, butterflies, moths, and, of course, flies. It will supplement this with spiders, small lizards, and fruits and berries (especially in its winter migration home). They will regurgitate the pits of the fruits after eating the soft flesh.

Great Crested Flycatcher Predators, Threats, and Conservation Status

The great crested flycatcher is considered to be a species of least concern by the IUCN Red List, but some individual birds do fall victim to predators, pesticide poisoning, and habitat loss. Competition for scarce nesting sites is often fierce and difficult.

What eats the great crested flycatcher?

An adult bird doesn’t usually have much to fear from predators, but eggs and hatchlings are often vulnerable to snakes, squirrels, and other arboreal animals. It will make a fast repeating call when a predator is spotted. If the predator doesn’t heed its warning, then it may dive down and attack.

Great Crested Flycatcher Reproduction, Young, and Molting

The breeding season of the great crested flycatcher lasts every year between May and July. The male makes a three-part whistling song to attract a mate. The courtship is then sealed with a vaunted aerial ritualized behavior in which the male will swoop down at a potential mate and hope for a positive response. Sometimes he will even pursue the female back to her nesting cavity. Once they’ve mated, the mother will lay four to six eggs and incubate them for about two weeks.

The young are later born helpless, naked, and without sight, entirely dependent on their parents. The female will provide much of the food for the hatchlings, while the male will defend the territory from intruders. The first flight begins around 13 to 15 days of age, but the juveniles remain with the parents for another three weeks. By the arrival of the next breeding season, the juveniles are ready to mate for the first time. The typical lifespan is thought to be around 10 years or more, but it’s difficult to estimate because few birds return to their original nesting location. The maximum recorded lifespan was 14 years.

Great Crested Flycatcher Population

It’s estimated that some 6.7 million great crested flycatchers are alive. The population numbers appear to have remained quite stable between 1966 and 2014.

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Great Crested Flycatcher FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Does the great crested flycatcher migrate?

Yes, it migrates south for the winter.

How many eggs does the great crested flycatcher lay?

This bird can lay anywhere between four and eight eggs at a time. However, five is a much more common number.

How fast does the great crested flycatcher fly?

The top speed isn’t known, but this flycatcher is a fast and agile bird.

What is the great crested flycatcher’s wingspan?

The average wingspan is about 13 inches long.

Where do great crested flycatchers live?

In the breeding season, they live near woodlands in the eastern United States and Canada.

What does the song of the great crested flycatcher sound like?

The male has a loud three-part whistling or buzzing call, sometimes repeated over and over.

Where does the great crested flycatcher nest?

This species chooses to nest in abandoned holes and cavities high up in canopies. The presence of old and dying trees is important for nesting sites.

How can I attract a great crested flycatcher?

The great crested flycatcher sometimes has difficulty finding a suitable nesting site and will easily accept an artificial one. It should be attracted to a simple hanging nest box (or at least one with a predator guard) 12 to 20 feet above the ground. The box should be placed in your yard well in advance of the breeding season. You don’t need to leave out any food since it will do most of the hunting and foraging on its own.

How can you tell if a great crested flycatcher has laid her eggs?

It’s difficult to tell from physical appearance alone, but she will usually lay her eggs in July and start to venture out more from the nest.

Are great crested flycatchers aggressive?

Males are known for their aggressive territorial behavior in the breeding season. It will make a harsh buzzing sound first, and if that doesn’t work, it may snap its bill and chase after the intruder.

Are great crested flycatchers common?

Yes, they are very common throughout their entire range.

Do great crested flycatcher birds mate for life?

These birds tend to keep only a single mate per breeding season. Sometimes they breed several years together, while others may select a new mate every season.

Do great crested flycatchers hover?

Yes, the technical term for this is hover gleaning. It will remain suspended in the air while snatching prey with its beak.

How big is a great crested flycatcher?

It measures about 7 or 8 inches tall.

Sources
  1. Animal Diversity Web, Available here: https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Myiarchus_crinitus/
  2. Audubon, Available here: https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/great-crested-flycatcher
  3. All About Birds, Available here: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/news/search/?q=Great%20Cre

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