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Science & NatureWhat is That?What is That ... a Flycatcher or a Phoebe?

What is That … a Flycatcher or a Phoebe?


At least ten species of flycatcher live in Ontario, three of which we know live and breed at White Lake.  We may have more than three species of flycatcher at the cottage … it would be likely according to our sources … but we have only been able to confirm three with Bruce’s trusty camera.

No doubt you can guess why these birds are amongst our favourite birds.  All three eat flying insects.  We are willing to sacrifice the insects to the flycatchers.  In fact, we cheer them on.

I think it is fair to say our most entertaining flycatcher is the eastern phoebe.  It is the easiest of the flycatchers to identify because of its fondness for human structures, including our cottage.  From the nest it built under our porch, we have watched one female in particular fly to and fro through several summer months beginning in May 2014 when we first noticed the nest.   The female phoebe constructed the nest from mud, moss, and leaves mixed with grass stems and possibly animal hair. This nest adheres to the outside wall of the cottage, wedged between the wall and a porch structural beam under the porch floor.  Once the eggs hatched, our morning coffee, afternoon tea and evening wine were all accompanied by the insistent chirping complaints of the chicks while their busy mother tried to satisfy the chicks’ appetite for insects.  The adult could often be seen sitting on a low tree branch,  a few yards away from the porch, flicking its tail up and down.


The eastern kingbird is a highly visible flycatcher given its large size and habit of perching for long periods of time on exposed branches high in a tree.  We are tempted to suggest the kingbird poses for our camera.  From time to time they swoop from their perch to pursue an insect, or attack another passing bird, such as a crow.  In addition to insects, the eastern kingbird will eat berries in the late summer.  All of our eastern kingbird photos have been taken between 6:30 and 7:30 a.m. either at the beginning or end of Bruce’s morning paddle.


While both the eastern phoebe and the eastern kingbird are relatively easy to photograph, the great crested flycatcher is a little more illusive.  It is the only one of our White Lake flycatchers to include the word ‘flycatcher’ in its name.  Primarily birds of the tropics, great crested flycatchers visit White Lake (and Ontario) only to breed.  They do not arrive until mid-May and are gone by early September.  Bruce managed to snap a few pictures of this great crested flycatcher during the summer of 2015.  We like this one with the sun highlighting its yellow belly.


We use several different resources to identify flycatchers and learn more about their habits, including: Peterson’s Field Guide to the Birds East of the Rockies; Sibley’s Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America; Lorimer’s Ontario Birds; and, McKeating’s Birds of Ottawa.  Our favourite website is Cornell University’s




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