Thursday, 16 April 2015

B.O.T.D. Hammond's Flycatcher

Hammond's Flycatcher (Empidonax hammondii)

High atop a spruce clinging to the flanks of the northern Rockies, a Hammond's flycatcher sits and waits. Wings and tail flicking, feet clamping upon its perch, the bird fairly vibrates like a slingshot at full draw. Suddenly it darts forth. The wide flycatcher bill opens and closes with an audible snap - and a flying ant disappears within. Then, as it tethered by an invisible elastic, the feathered projectile snaps back to its launch point, where it sits, fidgeting nervously, and waits for another victim to pass.

The Hammond's is a bird for the heights, foraging int eh higher branches of tall western evergreens. In the warmer, southern reaches of its nesting range, the bird's love of high places may carry it to elevations above 10,000 feet - a penchant that helps to distinguish from the dusky flycatcher. This near-twin of the Hammond's shuns high places and favours drier, more open woodlands. Not quite so nervous as the Hammond's, dusky flycatchers seem able to hold their wing flickering in check, but even the strongest willed dusky must surrender to a periodic twitch of the tail.

The high-strung Hammond's must be anxious about being separated from its nesting territory, too. In the spring it arrives uncommonly early - often migrating with those vanguards of spring, the hardy kinglets. In the fall it lingers longer than most other flycatchers - far longer than mights seem prudent for a bird that catches insects for a living.

Cornell Lab: Hammond's Flycatcher
Reader's Digest: Book of North American Birds