To catch a flycatcher

The identification of the various flycatcher species of birds is described as challenging, at best – especially to the more novice birding enthusiast like me.

Some species have clearly definable traits that make identification far easier. For example, the Eastern Phoebe’s bill is all black. It has a larger head and it’s wing bars are not as distinct as many other species of flycatchers.

Here are a few photos I have taken recently of Eastern Phoebes.

I strongly rely upon the all-black-beak as a defining feature when identifying the Phoebe.

Another flycatcher species that is quite common around my place is the Eastern Wood-Pewee. In fact, there’s one (or maybe more) individuals of this species that routinely hunt from the long hanging branches of the Oak tree in the front yard of our old house. I’ve seen it probably a few dozen times before in that same spot. The first photo below is of this very handsome bird that I captured yesterday. The second photo I took about a month ago in the same tree. The Wood-Pewee’s vocalization is so distinct, and it presents it so frequently that I tend to rely on that if I am uncertain about whether the flycatcher I’m observing is a Pewee. They also lack the white eye ring that birds in the Empidonax species possess.

This summer I have observed two other flycatcher species. Making such a claim is always a point of discussion especially since I’m a fairly novice birding enthusiast. But, I feel fairly confident that I’ve filmed both Willow and Alder flycatchers. Here are photos of the Willow Flycatchers that I’ve observed this summer (and, of course, I can be incorrect in my assessment – which is a main reason for creating this post.) If you feel otherwise I would very much appreciate your input regarding my perspective on these birds. Some people have suggested this is a Least Flycatcher, instead of a Willow. Others have suggested it’s an Alder. Merlin app reports Willow most of the time.

The other flycatcher species that I believe I filmed is the Alder Flycatcher. Here are those images. Merlin comes back with Alder when I input these next photos.

Now…. with all that said, on August 22, 2022 a bird flew into a tree not far from where I was sitting near our farm pond. I was able to snap three pictures. In attempting to identify this bird, I ultimately decided upon juvenile Eastern Bluebird. It seemed more substantial than a flycatcher, but hey, I don’t always remember experiences perfectly when I go out birding. That is why I won’t claim I saw it if I didn’t get a record of it!

When I posted the photos (below) to a Facebook birders group, I identified the bird as a juvenile Eastern Bluebird because, well I heard Bluebirds calling in the area and I decided to go with a ‘keep it simple” strategy. It had the large eyes of a Bluebird. It has a mottled breast like juveniles often have. When two different people responded that they felt it was a Flycatcher species (one stating the yellow lower bill was uncharacteristic of a Bluebird) I was confused, but only slightly. That’s because I wasn’t fully committed to the Bluebird ID to begin with. However, I didn’t immediately think this bird was any of the flycatcher species with which I am familiar.

“Merlin doesn’t have a likely bird” is the response I receive from the app for one photo, for another it lists Dark Eyed Junco. I know that’s not accurate.

So, I’m sending out some “Identification Help” please. I’d love to get a definitive ID, but if not, at least i would like some best guesses! Thank you in advance.

Unknown species. Filmed in Fayette Co, IL on August 22, 2022.

One Comment on “To catch a flycatcher

  1. Oh Tammie a lot of them are the young of the year, all fluffy without their adult plumage on. Birds this age are very challenging do not worry. Fools even the best of us.

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