Brown-crested FlycatcherMyiarchus tyrannulus

Rick and Nora Bowers/VIREO
Greg Lasley/VIREO
Rick and Nora Bowers/VIREO


Of the three similar crested flycatchers in the west, this is the largest. It is a common summer resident in the southwest, mainly in southern Texas and Arizona. Brown-crested Flycatchers are conspicuous and aggressive in the nesting season; they arrive late in spring, after most other hole-nesting birds, and may have to compete for nest sites. Typically they feed on large insects like beetles or cicadas, but they also have been seen catching hummingbirds on occasion.


Sycamore canyons, saguaros, river groves. In Texas, mostly in dry woodlands and groves of taller trees along streams and rivers. Farther west, found in tall sycamores or cottonwoods along streams, in lowlands or in canyons; also common in open desert where giant saguaro cactus grows. Limited to areas with large cavities (in trees or saguaros) for nesting.

Feeding Diet

Mostly insects. Feeds mainly on insects, especially cicadas, grasshoppers, and beetles, also other large insects such as dragonflies, praying mantises, and others. Will take small lizards, and has been seen catching and eating hummingbirds. Also feeds on fruit and berries, including the fruit of saguaro cactus.

Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly by flying out from a perch and hovering while taking insects from foliage. Usually forages fairly high. Also catches some insects in mid-air, or from branches or trunks of trees, and occasionally descends to take them on or near the ground. Will perch in shrubs or cactus to eat fruit.


Very aggressive during the nesting season, competing with other pairs of their own species and with other hole-nesting birds. Unlike many native birds, is able to compete successfully against starlings for nest sites. Nest site is in cavity in tree or in giant cactus, usually in holes made by good-sized woodpeckers (such as Gila or Golden-fronted) or flickers. Cavities used are 5-50' above the ground, usually 10-30' up. Both sexes help build nest in cavity, a bulky mass of plant fibers, animal hair, feathers, other debris, lined with softer materials. Often has pieces of snakeskin added to lining. Eggs: 4-5, sometimes 3-6. White to pale buff, blotched with brown and lavender. Incubation is by female only, about 13-15 days. Young: Both parents bring food for nestlings. Age of young at first flight probably about 12-18 days. 1 brood per year.


4-5, sometimes 3-6. White to pale buff, blotched with brown and lavender. Incubation is by female only, about 13-15 days. Young: Both parents bring food for nestlings. Age of young at first flight probably about 12-18 days. 1 brood per year.


Both parents bring food for nestlings. Age of young at first flight probably about 12-18 days. 1 brood per year.


Numbers seem stable in limited U.S. range.


In its United States range, arrives mostly in May and leaves mostly in August. Apparently only a short-distance migrant; present all year in most parts of Mexico. In fall and winter, a few wander east along Gulf Coast; rare but almost regular in southern Florida in winter.


whip calls
excited calls
various calls
dawn song

Similar Species


Greater Pewee

In mountain forests of Arizona (and locally in western New Mexico), this chunky flycatcher is fairly common in summer. It is often seen perched on a dead twig high in a pine, watching for flying insects. In color and markings, the Greater Pewee is as plain as a bird can be; but it has a beautifully clear, whistled song, ho-say, ma-re-ah, giving rise to its Mexican nickname of "Jose Maria."


Ash-throated Flycatcher

This pale flycatcher is common and widespread in arid country of the west. Like its close relatives, it nests in holes in trees. However, because it lives in dry terrain where trees are often small or scarce, it will resort to other sites; nests have been found in such odd places as exhaust pipes, hollow fence posts, mailboxes, and even in trousers hanging on a clothesline.


Great Crested Flycatcher

In dense leafy forests of the east, the Great Crested Flycatcher lives within the canopy of tall trees in summer. It is more easily heard than seen, its rolling calls echoing through the woods. The birder who pursues and sees the bird is likely to be impressed; this species is much more colorful than most flycatchers in the east. It nests in holes in trees, and it has the odd habit of adding pieces of shed snakeskin to its nest.


Dusky-capped Flycatcher

The mournful whistle of the Dusky-capped Flycatcher is a common sound in woodlands almost throughout the American tropics. This bird reaches its northern limits in Arizona and New Mexico, where it is common in summer in canyons and pine-oak forest. There are places in the lower canyons of Arizona where it can be found side by side with two close relatives in the crested flycatcher group, the Ash-throated and Brown-crested flycatchers.


Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher

One of the last spring migrants to arrive in southern Arizona, the Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher brings an unmistakable touch of the tropics. Colorful, strongly patterned, and noisy, it seems far more exotic than most of the drab North American flycatchers. Its shrill calls, sounding like rusty hinges or squeaky rubber toys, are typical sounds of summer among the sycamores in lower canyons near the Mexican border.


Couch's Kingbird

This Texas specialty is almost identical to the Tropical Kingbird, and was considered a race of that species until the 1980s. However, their voices are quite different, and they live side by side in eastern Mexico without interbreeding. Couch's Kingbirds are common around woodland edges and near ponds and rivers in southern Texas during the summer, and a few remain all winter there.


Tropical Kingbird

One of the most widespread birds of the American tropics, this species reaches the United States mainly in southern Arizona. There it is the quietest and most inconspicuous of the four kingbird species present. Beginning in the early 1990s a few Tropicals were also found in southern Texas, where they overlap with their close relative, Couch's Kingbird. Unlike most kingbirds, Tropicals are seldom found in flocks.


Cassin's Kingbird

As suggested by its scientific name vociferans, Cassin's is our noisiest kingbird (except for the very localized Thick-billed). Possibly it has more need for vocal communication because it lives in denser habitat than most. Males have a strident "dawn song," a rising berg-berg-berg-BERG, often heard at first light but rarely later in the day, sometimes confused with song of Buff-collared Nightjar. Where present in numbers (as on wintering grounds in Mexico), flocks may gather to roost in large concentrations.


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