You know the cry of the olive-sided flycatcher. Or, you should, because it’s easy to remember: “Quick, three beers!” (Okay, well, maybe it’s more like “whip-whee-wheer!”) But this stocky, barrel-chested bird is also famous for its insect-nabbing skills. Flycatchers will station themselves on the same branch all day long, patiently waiting to spot a large, airborne insect (like a fly). Then, the bird shoots out, grabs it, and takes it back to its perch to eat. A flycatcher can spot a bug up to 70 metres away. This type of foraging behaviour is called “sallying”; other birds, such as swallows, catch insects mid-air, but they don’t return to a perch to eat.
Flycatchers, as a family, are largely tropical birds—there are more than 350 species, most of them in Central and South America. Even olive-sides only brave a few months in Canada. They arrive from the Andes in late May, and are often heading back before the end up August. (Phoebes and eastern wood-pewees are also common cottage-country flycatchers. They’re smaller, and more agile flyers.)
Once a male olive-sided flycatcher arrives in the north in late spring, he stakes out a territory—a big one. A single bird can reign over a chunk of forest as huge as 100 acres! Having to monitor such a large area makes these birds extremely territorial. Typically, flycatcher ranges don’t abut each other; they’re more likely to be separated by patches of empty, unsuitable habitat. Oh, and watch it if you get close to an olive-side’s nest: Mom and Dad will aggressively defend it, even from people.
Although olive-sided flycatcher numbers have definitely decreased—by almost 80 per cent since 1970—they are a species that can profit and flourish in certain habitats that other birds and mammals would deem unsuitable. For example, they’re often found in fire-burned forests. The open areas, and the dead trees that can act as perches, make it easier for the birds to spot and then catch insects. Plus, after a forest fire, bugs can become more abundant (the charred trees provide homes for them).