Great Crested Flycatchers Defend Their Nest
- Great Crested Flycatchers Defend Their Nest
One of my favorite cavity nesting birds is the great crested
flycatcher. These tyrant flycatchers are common in my area of
Tallahassee and not choosy at all when it comes to selecting a
nesting cavity. In April 2003, a pair chose my old red-bellied
woodpecker box which I was suppose to replace this year, but I
get around to doing it. This box is attached to a utility pole in my
front yard and is adjacent to my purple martin colony. Well, the
flycatchers have nested in this box before and the female built her
nest in it again this year. She filled the box with pine needles,
feathers, and of course the signature nest component of the great
crested flycatcher, snake skins. Flycatchers HATE live snakes but
LOVE their skins.
However, there was a problem with this nesting arrangement. During
the evenings, a female red-bellied woodpecker used the box for
roosting. I had seen this situation occur in the past and it is NOT a
pleasant relationship! After the female flycatcher had laid all her
eggs, she would then be sitting on them at night. Knowing this, I
tried to chase the woodpecker away in the evenings when she flew in
to roost. This usually worked but the woodpecker would hide in a
nearby oak tree and then make a beeline for the box the moment I was
away from the area.
This complicated sleeping arrangement all came to a violent
conclusion on the late afternoon when the female flycatcher had laid
her last egg and she was now ready to start incubating day and NIGHT.
I was in the yard watching my martin colony when suddenly the female
woodpecker dove down and quickly slipped into the nest cavity!
Bedlam. Chaos. The female flycatcher, which was out of the box, saw
the woodpecker enter and streaked to the entrance. She screamed and
tried to pull the woodpecker out. I rushed forward and scared the
woodpecker out which then flew to the top of the utility pole where
the birdhouse is attached. In a flash the male flycatcher attacked
and viciously hit the woodpecker in the back. The flycatcher's
snapped rapidly. The female flycatcher, now wild with rage, flew up
and latched onto the woodpecker's tail. The woodpecker was
and all three fell from the utility pole and hit the ground. For a
few seconds, the flycatchers held the screaming woodpecker there
until she broke free and tried to fly to a thicket in my backyard.
Not so fast! The female flycatcher streaked like a jet, her bill
snapping like a machine gun, and hit the woodpecker in the back. Both
fell into the thicket and I could hear the wild screams of the
woodpecker as the flycatcher pecked away. Then the flycatcher flew
out. That incident ENDED the red-bellied woodpecker's attempts to
sleep in the flycatchers' nest box!
The flycatchers raised five youngsters this season and I watched them
leave the nest late one afternoon. Male and female red-bellied
woodpeckers often visited my bird feeders on my back porch during the
time the flycatchers were feeding their nest bound young. However,
they rarely flew within 50 feet of the flycatchers' nest. Anytime
of the woodpeckers got near the flycatchers' nest, both
if they were around, savagely attacked and drove the intruders away.
This included "riding the woodpecker's back" until both
and the tormented fell into thickets or even to the ground.
Woodpeckers are friends and foes of great crested flycatchers.
Woodpeckers prepare nest cavities for the flycatchers. But
woodpeckers, particularly red-bellied and red-headed, will destroy
the flycatchers' eggs/small young. I have seen that happen in my
yard. Of all birds, flycatchers attack woodpeckers with overwhelming
ferocity. However, the starling is the worst enemy of great crested
flycatchers in urban and suburban areas or where starlings are