Project Chekov: Flycatchers and Friends

Today’s post required some assistance from Facebook (shudder).  I was struggling terribly with trying to identify the featured bird shown below.

The problem wasn’t so much the category because the crest and general shape is easily identifiable as a Flycatcher, but there are a number of different types of Flycatchers with subtle nuances.  Every reference book on my shelf was rifled through at least twice trying to narrow it down – even went so far as to go through every page of the Stokes book while traveling up to the Quad Cities to see if I was overlooking some other bird.  When that failed to produce a good match, I went and spent a couple of hours on Google Images to see if there happened to be a hit there – NO LUCK.

The problem isn’t so much the shape.  Based on the smaller stature and the bill, it is pretty easy to ID it as an Eastern Phoebe.  That is assuming you do not focus much on the coloring.  That is the tricky part.  Eastern Phoebes have an all whitish breast.  This one got darker on the bottom.  In fact, it looked the complete opposite of the Black Phoebe which has already made a debut on the blog (link here).  Although there is not a good breast shot on that post, they are black on top and then turn to white half way down.  So that was completely out for this particular bird.  It looked so cute, I could hardly go any further without getting a good classification on it, so I employed my wife to submit a picture on an Illinois Birding Facebook page.  It didn’t take long for some feedback to start rolling in.  One of Linda’s friend’s husband agreed with me that it was an Eastern Phoebe.  So that part was pretty much settled, but was still curious on the coloring.  Here’s another shot … he’s a cutie.

Hit the jump learn about the likely answer to the coloring issue

Soon another comment came in with a very viable explanation.  This commenter said he had seen a similar shot where the bird was suffering from mites which had essentially destroyed the feathering (not sure if the mites did it or the bird did it trying to get the mites off).  That prompted a closer look – sure enough, it does look like the feathering was peeled away.  The other indicator the guy mentioned is you can see more of the leg which is a check.  So what turned out to be a cute set of portraits, has a sad turn to it.  Hate to think this bird was suffering, especially with all the cute posing it was doing for the camera.. like this darling pose.

and this little “I’m sooo shy” number.

I do not know much about these mites, but I’ve seen birds around our feeders that look in pretty bad shape – now thinking they might have a similar parasite problem or hopefully just molting.   A thought just came to me .. because it was actually news to me.   you may not know that Phoebes are actually a type of Flycatcher.  As the name suggests they are indeed insectivores which means I’m a big fan!  Anything that controls the population of pesky insects is more than welcome in our yard.

They are abundant in the Eastern half of the US and well into Canada and Central America.  They are actually identified by having a larger than average head for their body.  Just imagine all the other birds going around saying -“look at the size of that hee’d – looks like Spuntnik; spherical but quite pointy at parts”.  Sorry, that movie always cracks me up and Linda and I are always quoting it.

This particular bird was shot on our Wisconsin/Michigan trip back in July 2012.  Thinking it was actually taken in the Porcupine Mountains but do not hold me to that – it’s been awhile (ugh).  I sure hope he recovered from those mites – hate to see a bird suffer (that includes Snowy Owls that have been smacked with a Jeep windshield)

Figured I’d throw in the Flycatcher that does live in our yard – actually, the nest is under our porch.  Per Wikipedia and my own observation, they nest is an open cup with a mud base and lined with moss and grass.  This one returns every year and reuses the same nest – keeps making it a little bigger every year.  Usually has 2 to 3 offspring a year.  I try not to disturb the nest much, not wanting to risk scaring it off – we need to keep those insects under control.

Believe this one is actually an Olive-sided Flycatcher due to it’s larger stature.  We generally bond over the weekly mowing – It sits on that tree branch while I run the riding mower.  As soon as I spook a moth it swoops in and gobbles it up.  As a result, it is generally comfortable around us and goes about its business without a care to what we are doing in the yard.  It does get a little more cautious when babies are in the nest.

Figured I’d throw in some Finch shots just to keep with the theme.  I think this one might be a female House Finch.  Possibly a Purple Finch but they have more defined streaking on their chest.  Mainly including because I think it is a cute composition – “Excuse me, do you have any Grey Poupon?”

Based on how much feed we go through in a year, I think we are basically feeding every Finch in the county.  Again, think these are two House Finches (female and male) but as before I can be talked out of that if needed.  I liked the composition balance between the red, the brown and the blue of the Indigo Bunting – there is plenty of color at our feeders during the Summer months.  Right now most of the birds have dropped their colors  (boo!)

More finches – let’s stick with the House Finches for at least the upper two.  I laugh every time I look at this photo – nothing like being photobombed by a Cardinal.  “Wouldn’t you rather be taking a photograph of a more colorful bird!?!  like say .. ME?” hehehe.

That’s all folks – it’s late and I need to get to bed.  This post has more images than intended, but that Phoebe had such interesting poses I wanted to throw them out there.  Have a good one and stay warm for all you Midwesternites!

2 thoughts on “Project Chekov: Flycatchers and Friends”

  1. Very cute birds!! I had just decided that a disease or something was making the Phoebe’s feathers fall off (after first speculating that it had been wallowing in mud), when you wrote about the mites.

    I can’t tell the difference between a House Finch and a Purple Finch. We do have these around our house–they like to hang around in the bushes in front of our porch.

    I can’t believe all the colorful birds you have at your feeders, though. Birds have been ignoring my bird feeder since I restocked it last Fall. Either it’s bad seed or mold is growing in the bottom of the feeder. But they won’t even eat it off the ground, so my guess is bad seed. I see you spend money on the sunflower seeds! I buy the medium-priced stuff–some sunflower seeds but not the majority.

    Thanks again for the cute birds! Our cats seem interested, too.



  2. I was having a lot of problems with the feeders until I switched to Black Oil Sunflower Seeds. The birds in our parts love that stuff and that includes the woodpeckers! I tend to stick with the Menards 50lb bags and stock up whenever they are on sale and if lucky have their 11% rebate going on. These Winter months are hard on the supplies – they go through that stuff fast. As mentioned today there were at least 20 to 25 Cardinals, two Blue Jays, around 15 Juncos and your standard Finches, Chickadees, Titmice and Nuthatches – oh, and today a Red-Bellied Woodpecker decided to have a little snack. You do need to clean those feeders every once in awhile unless you want your cars bombed!


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