Boat Billed Flycatcher

(Megarynchus pitangua)
Quick, think of a bird that has yellow underparts, a brown back and a black head with a white band encircling the crown… no, it’s not the ubiquitous Kiskadee. To the untrained eye, the Boat-billed Flycatcher is often mistaken for possibly one of the most well-known birds in Trinidad, the Great Kiskadee. However, as a birder so very well knows, to successfully identify this bird one must take a closer look. The Boat-billed Flycatcher belongs to the family of Tyrant Flycatchers, one of the largest of all bird families. The most distinguishing feature of the Boat-billed Flycatcher is its oversized, curved bill, a feature which can be attributed to the origin of its name. Another notable trait is the olive-brown tinge to the feathers on its back as opposed to the plain brown colour of the back of the Great Kiskadee. Similar to the Kiskadee, there is a concealed yellow patch on the crown. At the sound of its call, one can also recognise the Boat-billed Flycatcher. The Boat-billed Flycatcher does not make therenowned call of “kiss-ka-deeee! “ Its call is a loud, irksome “choip, choip, choip, choip”. Still, at times some of its vocalisations are similar to those of the Kiskadee. Also known as the Broad-billed Kiskadee, this nine-inch bird is much more common here than one may think. Found perched high up in trees at forest edges, semi-open forest, coffee and cocoa plantations, it builds stick nests in the foliage. It forages for insects, small vertebrates and occasionally, berries.Cicadas are a particular favourite at mealtime and are normally struck against a branch before eating. The Boat-billed Flycatcher, being exclusive to the New World, ranges from Mexico to Argentina and, of course, Trinidad. It breeds from February to June, usually laying between one and three eggs. Boat-billed Flycatchers tend to be found in family groups, youngsters remaining with parents for months until coming of age. So the next time you spot a Kiskadee perched atop a wire a more detailed scan may reveal its true identity – the Boatbilled Flycatcher. If not, a trip to the Asa Wright Nature Centre just may provide you with your first sighting!

–By JH Ryan

References:

  • ffrench, Richard. 1991. A Guide to the Birds of Trinidad and Tobago.
  • Hilty, Steven L. 2003. Birds of Venezuela.
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