Flycatchers seem to be almost at every park, walk path and wooded area in the springtime here in Orange County, California. How do I know if I have seen a flycatcher? They ascertain a unique behavior which is common amongst all flycatchers and that is typically to perch, watch, nab its prey sometimes at close range and return back to the same position. This usually carries on for several minutes with multiple instances of this ritual occurring.
The migrant invasion of Flycatchers (aka Empids short for Empidonax) began late March / early April with the arrival of the following Empids:
Other Empids to arrive in this time frame were the sparse Gray Flycatcher, the Hammond’s Flycatcher and a rare sighting of the Dusky-capped Flycatcher at Gilman Park along with a handful of sightings of the Dusky Flycatcher and the Olive-sided Flycatcher. Mid to late May introduces yet another Empid arrival and that is the Willow Flycatcher. It can be a challenge to tell many of these apart. Your best source of ID is their call as comparing their primary projections, bill, head, eye ring or lack thereof along with behavioral patterns and other attributes can be a challenge for the untrained eye.
To confuse matters, other common types of local flycatchers are the Cassin’s Kingbird, Black Phoebe, Say’s Phoebe and Phainopepla which are year round species here in Orange County. The Western Kingbird is yet another migrant.
Here are perhaps the 3 most common of these migrants which are relatively easy to tell apart. More images of each of these 3 flycatchers can be found in the photo gallery on ocbirds.com. Suggestions welcome.
The Western Wood-Pewee. Note the unique chest pattern which appears to be somewhat of a vest shape. Their “song” sounds like a it like “Happy Birthday to You” but is seldom heard (this is my own personal mnemonic). Here’s what the Western Wood-Pewee call would sound like (courtesy of Xeno-canto and Eric Defonso). Look for this flycatcher perching on twigs and stark branches usually a few feet off the ground to higher tree tops primarily in open, unshaded areas. Similar species would be the Olive-sided Flycatcher.
The Pacific-slope Flycatcher. A distinct tear drop shaped eye ring can help separate this bird apart from the Western Wood-Pewee and Ash-throated Flycatcher. Their call is frequently heard and unique to other flycatcher species except perhaps the Cordillean which is unlikely to be found in Orange County. The Pacific-slope Flycatcher call sounds as if someone is whistling to get your attention. (Courtesy of Xeno-canto and Thomas G. Graves). Typically found perching low to the ground to 6 feet or so in height. It can be found in open or shaded areas and on embankments or sloped areas. It’s rather small in size and similar local migrant species would be the Gray, Dusky, Hammond’s and Willow flycatcher.
The Ash-throated Flycatcher. The gradient on its torso from grayish white on the upper chest to lemony yellow is unique as compared to the other two flycatchers here. A rufous colored tail with a dark brown border and rufous tinging on its wings along with its larger bill are easy comparison markings when compared with the Pacific-slope Flyctacher and Western Wood-Pewee. Here’s the Call of the Ash-throated Flycatcher (by Anthony Gliozzo). The call sample was from the same bird in this photo. There is somewhat of a similar overlap with the call of the Cassin’s Kingbird. Similar species would be the rare Dusky-capped Flycatcher posted earlier this year on ocbirds.com.