Great Crested Flycatcher

Late last autumn, Robert and I put up a duck box near our pond. Personally, I didn’t really care if actual Wood Ducks used the box. I worry for their chicks when they leave the nest, since we have snapping turtles in the pond. But, I was hoping that a Kestrel or maybe a small owl might move in and raise a brood.

First, I thought that Northern Flickers would take occupancy, because a trail cam video clip showed a pair checking it out. But, while I saw the Flickers in the area for a few days, they didn’t fully commit. Then, about a month ago, a pair of Starlings begin to take material into the box. After a few days, we removed the very minor nest to discourage them. We continue to see Starlings on and in the box. Still, with each check there’s very little to show they are making a full fledged nest.

About a week ago, for three days straight, we saw a Red-tailed hawk apparently using the top of the box as his dining room table. I scared the big bird twice when entering the area and Robert scared him off the box on the third day. We put up a trial cam hoping to catch him – but haven’t caught him (probably because twice in two days we had device failure with the trail cam.)

I decided to perform a stake-out. I positioned myself in a small clearing on the west side of the pond where I had a direct view of the back of the duck box which is located on the East side of the pond. Although I spent over three hours there, I didn’t catch sight of the hawk. However, I was very lucky to snap some photos of Bell’s’ Vireo. It’s a small bird that I hear very frequently but had never seen before. They prefer hanging out in the underbrush. So, it was just by luck that they decided to first alert me with frequently vocalizations, then come out of the shadows for just a few seconds at a time.

Additionally, while waiting for the Red-tailed Hawk to show up with a meal to consume atop the duck box, I noticed two yellow-ish birds. They were hanging out in a small tree that was just about 15 feet from the duck box. One bird would flit over to the duck box and, as it appeared to me, try to grab a hold of the side of the box. The other bird would join the first, sometimes trying to hang onto the opposite side of the box. Then they would fly off. This occurred a couple times and I realized that I might capture it on film if I focused directly where they were attempting to land on the box. I adjusted the tri-pod. I focused on my target location. I waited. Then I saw something worthy of redirecting my camera – something like this Common Yellowthroat warbler that was behind some grass which obscured a good shot, but was still worthy of the attempt.

Minor movement across the pond caught my attention. I saw the flitty yellow-ish birds around the duck box, again! But, they flew off before I could redirect my focus. Dang. I need to stay on a task and not get sidetracked by, say, getting a photo of this unknown dragonfly, or another opportunity to film the Bell’s Vireo.

I was never able to capture an image of the yellow-ish birds, and I actually couldn’t figure out what sort of birds they may have been. That is until Robert brought in an SD card from the duck box trail cam. As I reviewed the files, there were many that were tripped by movement caused by the wind. I almost deleted them all without a thorough review, but then I spotted a yellow-ish bird landing ontop of the duck box.

It was a Great Crested Flycatchers. That is a species that prefers to reside in the upper canopy of the woods, so why it would come down to within ten feet of the ground seemed odd. That is, until I did a little more research and discovered that Great Crested Flycatchers are the only flycatcher species that nests in cavities. If they can’t find a natural hole in which to raise their brood, they have been known to use man-made nest boxes! I suspect that the yellow-ish birds I saw a few days ago when waiting for the hawk were Great Crested Flycatchers evaluating the duck box as a possible nesting cavity.

Here’s the video:

An unnerving clip from the same trail cam shows a Starling removing nesting material from the box and flying off with it. As I wrote earlier, the Starlings have not seemed committed to building a nest in the box, but they maintain a sense of territory over it – at least that is how it seems to me. Now, if the Great Crested Flycatchers are truly interested in the box, we may need to get more determine about removing the Starlings from the picture. I’m not sure how likely the flycatchers might be to moving in. However, if that’s a possibility, I don’t want the invasive European Starling to foil their attempts. It may be time to ask Robert to set his scope.

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