Myiarchus crinitusgreat crested flycatcher

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Geographic Range

Commonly known as great crested flycatchers, Myiarchus crinitus inhabits the Nearctic and Neotropical regions of North, Central and South America. This migratory flycatcher breeds across the eastern half of the United States and the southern edge of Canada. During the non-breeding season, Myiarchus crinitus may be found in southern Central America and northeast South America. Some Myiarchus crinitus may inhabit the southern tip of Florida and Cuba year-round.

Habitat

Myiarchus crinitus is a forest-dwelling species that prefers deciduous or mixed-deciduous woodlands. This species is found in habitats with a semi-open canopy or forest edge. Urban areas with large canopy trees also provide habitat for this species. Myiarchus crinitus is an obligate, secondary cavity breeder and during the breeding season will seek out forests that provide snags and pre-made cavities.

Physical Description

Myiarchus crinitus is a large flycatcher with similar, yet brighter colors than others of the genus. It measures 22.2 cm in length, with a wingspan of 33.0 cm, and weighs in at 34 g. The dark gray head is large, rounded, and slightly domed or crested at the top. This species features a heavy, thick bill that is mostly black with an extensive, pale base. The gray coloration on the head is darkest on the top, then lightens and extends through the throat and breast, where it contrasts with the bright yellow belly and underside. The back is dark olive that blends into dark flight feathers edged in white. Secondary feathers are a bright rufous, as are the tail feathers. Legs and feet are dark brown to black. This species does not display any sexual dimorphism.

Juveniles are difficult to distinguish from adults but are overall duller in coloration. Slight differentiation may be discernible in a bird in the hand, where cinnamon-tinged upper tail coverts, broader rufous edges of primaries, and cinnamon terminal edges of wing coverts may be visible. (Lanyon, 1997; Sibley, 2000)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Average mass
    34 g
    1.20 oz
  • Average length
    22.2 cm
    8.74 in
  • Average wingspan
    33.0 cm
    12.99 in

Reproduction

Myiarchus crinitus is a monogamous species and does not exhibit elaborate courtship rituals, but males often aerially pursue females and chase them into the nesting cavity. Males aggressively defend and guard their mates throughout the breeding season. Pair bonds vary in duration as some pairs return to breed together for several years and others select new mates each season. Individuals have strong site fidelity and often return to the same location to breed every year, regardless of whether or not they pair with the same mate. (Ehrlich, et al., 1988; Johnsgard, 2009; Lanyon, 1997)

Myiarchus crinitus is a migratory species that travels northward during the spring and summer to breed each year. They migrate from April to May and males will begin establishing territories shortly after arrival in May. After pair formation, both the male and female survey potential nesting cavities. The female completes most or all of the nest construction process once a cavity is chosen. She selects a wide variety of nesting materials including leaves, fur, feathers, string, grass, bark, snakeskin, and human trash, with which she nearly fills the cavity. Females lay between 4 and 8 (typically 5) buffy eggs, streaked with brown or purple. Females perform all incubation which lasts 13 to 15 days. The young are altricial at hatching and weigh an average 3.0 g. At 13 to 15 days of age the young fledge but remain together in a family group for up to 3 weeks post-fledging. These juveniles are able to breed during the following breeding season. (Ehrlich, et al., 1988; Johnsgard, 2009; Lanyon, 1997; Taylor and Kershner, 1991)

  • Breeding interval
    Great crested flycatchers breed once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    Great crested flycatchers breed between May and mid-July.
  • Range eggs per season
    4 to 8
  • Average eggs per season
    5
  • Range time to hatching
    13 to 15 days
  • Range fledging age
    13 to 15 days
  • Range time to independence
    3 (high) weeks
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 years

Myiarchus crinitus young are altricial at birth, which requires a significant investment from both parents. Before eggs are laid, females construct a safe and secure nest while males aggressively defend the surrounding territory. After the female lays a clutch, she is the sole incubator while the male continues to defend and protect her and their nest. Both parents participate in nest sanitation once the eggs hatch, and they actively remove eggshells, fecal sacs, and food remnants a good distance away from the cavity. Both parents also provide food for the young, although females more frequently than males. Nestlings are fed a variety of insects, which are caught and presented to the young without regurgitation. After nestlings have fledged, the entire family remains together for 3 weeks, during which time both parents continue to feed and defend their fledglings. (Bent, 1942; Johnsgard, 2009; Lanyon, 1997)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • male parental care
  • female parental care
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female

Lifespan/Longevity

Though little data exists, lifespan for Myiarchus crinitus ranges from 2 to 10 years old. Lifespan estimates for this species are difficult to assess as few individuals return to their natal area. The maximum recorded lifespan comes from an individual that was recaptured 14 years after being banded as an adult. Possible causes of mortality include predation during the nesting stage, collisions with man-made structures during migration, and exposure to pesticides. (Lanyon, 1997)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    >14 (high) years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    2 to 10 years

Behavior

Most populations of Myiarchus crinitus are Neotropical migrants, traveling biannually between North America and Central or South America. Like many birds, they are highly active at dawn and dusk and are diurnal, with the exception of nocturnal migration. They are agile flyers as they catch most of insect prey in flight. Most of their time is spent on the wing or perched near the tops of large canopy trees, and they are rarely seen on the ground. During the breeding season, Myiarchus crinitus is highly territorial and both sexes will aggressively chase or attack intruders of the same or other species. Males invest nearly all of their time and energy in defending their breeding territories, while females construct nests and brood the clutch. During migration and on the wintering grounds, Myiarchus crinitus individuals travel alone or in pairs. (Ehrlich, et al., 1988; Lanyon, 1997; Taylor and Kershner, 1991)

  • Range territory size
    16,000 to 32,000 m^2

Home Range

Though little information exists, territory size for Myiarchus crinitus is estimated to range from 1.6 to 3.2 ha. (Lanyon, 1997)

Communication and Perception

Myiarchus crinitus uses auditory and physical body postures as main forms of communication. This species is recognized by its distinctive, loud, and somewhat raspy, "wree-eep" calls. These are often given between pairs or to young as contact calls. During territorial disputes, a shortened version of this call is given in rapid, ascending succession that is described as "wit-wit-wit". Myiarchus crinitus also gives a quieter "churr" call that is mostly given between individuals of a mated pair. At dawn during the breeding season, males give different versions of their entire repertoire to establish their territory. In addition to giving rapid harsh calls during territorial disputes, individuals often hunch low over their perch, flit and fan the tail feathers, and erect the feathers on the top of the head to appear crested. If the intruder does not retreat, Myiarchus crinitus will use physical aggression until the intruder is chased out. Myiarchus crinitus is even slightly aggressive in its courtship rituals. During pair formation, males will aerially chase potential mates, often into a nesting cavity. Occasionally, mates will perform short duets that consist of the "wree-eep" call given nearly at the same time. Like most birds, Myiarchus crinitus perceives its environment through auditory, visual, tactile, and chemical stimuli. (Lanyon, 1997)

Food Habits

Myiarchus crinitus is an insectivorous species, but will occasionally eat fruits, particularly during the non-breeding season. This species primarily employs hover-gleaning methods to aerially snatch prey from the surface of foliage. It often forages from a perch within the upper canopy of green trees, notably higher than many of its insectivorous neighbors. Common prey items include butterflies and moths, beetles, grasshoppers and crickets, bees and wasps, flies, and spiders. Necropsies have shown some individuals occasionally eat green anoles. Types of fruits consumed have not been reported. (Lanyon, 1997)

  • Animal Foods
  • reptiles
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • Plant Foods
  • fruit

Predation

Most predation occurs during the nesting stage, as eggs and young are vulnerable and make easy prey for predators. The most common predators of Myiarchus crinitus are snakes, and observations have been made of indigo snakes, yellow rat snakes, and corn snakes eating eggs, young, and adults. (Lanyon, 1997; Taylor and Kershner, 1991)

  • Known Predators
    • indigo snakes (Drymarchon corias)
    • yellow rat snakes (Elaphe obsoleta quadrivittata)
    • corn snakes (Pantherophis guttatus)

Ecosystem Roles

As primarily an insectivore, Myiarchus crinitus likely plays a significant role in controlling local insect populations. Eggs, young, and even adults may serve as prey for local predators such as snakes. This secondary cavity nester may compete for nesting sites with other cavity nesting species such as red-headed (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) and red-bellied woodpeckers (M. carolinus), eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis), house wrens (Troglodytes aedon), tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor), European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris), and red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus). Exact levels of competition are unknown, but there has been an instance where a pair of Myiarchus crinitus displaced a roosting Melanerpes carolinus from a nest box.

Myiarchus crinitus is also host for a variety of insects and parasites, primarily during the nesting stage as cavities are sheltered, enclosed habitats that provide suitable habitat for parasites to thrive. Four orders of insects have been found residing in Myiarchus crinitus nests including Diptera, Coleoptera, Lepidoptera, and Psocoptera. Two species of subcutaneous fly larvae (Neomusca porteri and Protocalliphora hirudo) have been found residing in nestlings but seem to have little effect on nestling survival. Nestling Myiarchus crinitus are also hosts to at least one species of mite (Ornithonyssus bursa), mainly in northern temperate habitats. (Lanyon, 1997; Taylor and Kershner, 1991)

Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Currently, Myiarchus crinitus provides no known economic benefits to humans.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of Myiarchus crinitus on humans.

Conservation Status

Currently, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) considers Myiarchus crinitus to be of least concern as it has a large geographic range and population numbers are high and stable. Like most birds, this species is negatively affected by several human activities including pesticide use, large man-made structures built in migratory pathways, and conversion of forests to urban or agricultural areas. These activities result in decreased food availability, collision mortality, and habitat loss, respectively. One large concern for all cavity nesting species is the loss of standing dead trees (snags) during "clean" forestry practices where these trees are often removed for aesthetic reasons. Snags are critical for these species as they provide highly suitable locations for nest cavities. In some areas, nest boxes have been employed to provide alternative nesting sites. Nesting success within these nest boxes is overall comparable to that of natural cavities and may be a viable management tool if habitats continue to decline. ("BirdLife International. Myiarchus crinitus", 2010; Lanyon, 1997; Miller, 2002; Taylor and Kershner, 1991)

Contributors

Rachelle Sterling (author), Special Projects, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, George Hammond (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff, Tricia Jones (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, ADW Zookeeper (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

Nearctic

living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

Neotropical

living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

arboreal

Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

carnivore

an animal that mainly eats meat

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

diurnal
  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

insectivore

An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males

migratory

makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds

monogamous

Having one mate at a time.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

oviparous

reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

solitary

lives alone

suburban

living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

territorial

defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

tropical

the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

urban

living in cities and large towns, landscapes dominated by human structures and activity.

visual

uses sight to communicate

References

2010. "BirdLife International. Myiarchus crinitus" (On-line). IUCN 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Accessed June 12, 2011 at http://www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/details/145324/0.

Bent, A. 1942. Life histories of North American flycatchers, larks, swallows and their allies. Bulletin of the United States National Museum, 179: 106-123.

Ehrlich, P., D. Dobkin, D. Wheye. 1988. The Birder's Handbook: A Field Guide to the Natural History of North American Birds. New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc..

Johnsgard, P. 2009. "Birds of the Great Plains" (On-line). Papers of the Biological Sciences. Accessed June 08, 2011 at http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1000&context=bioscibirdsgreatplains.

Lanyon, W. 1997. "Great Crested Flycatcher (Myiarchus crinitus)" (On-line). The Birds of North America Online. Accessed June 08, 2011 at http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/300.

Miller, K. 2002. Nesting success of the great crested flycatcher in nest boxes and in tree cavities: are nest boxes safer from nest predation?. The Wilson Bulletin, 114/2: 179-185.

Sibley, D. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc..

Taylor, W., M. Kershner. 1991. Breeding biology of the Great Crested Flycatcher in central Florida. Journal of Field Ornithology, 62/1: 28-39.