Illustration: Brown-crested flycatcher

Illustration by Peter Burke


Map: Brown crested flycatcher range

This is our largest Myiarchus. The western subspecies dwarfs the smaller dusky-capped; the eastern subspecies is closer in size to the great crested and the ash-­throated. Brown-cresteds prefer more mature, undisturbed habitats where larger nest cavities are available. Polytypic (7 ssp.; 2 in North America). Length 7.2–9.2" (18–23 cm)

Identification Adult: gray and yellow areas of underparts fairly bright, with abrupt gray-yellow contrast on breast. Outer pairs of tail feathers extensively rufous on inner webs; dark shaft stripes and rufous extend to feather tips. Bill proportionately long, heavy, and black. Mouth lining typically flesh-colored. Juvenile: similar, but secondaries (except whitish inner 2) and wing bars are rusty edged and inner webs of tail feathers are more extensively rufous (dark shaft stripe mostly lacking).

Geographic Variation Larger magister breeds in Southwest south through western Mexico; smaller cooperi breeds in southern Texas and eastern Mexico south to Honduras.

Similar Species The great crested has a darker gray face and breast; olive wash on sides of breast; broad white edge to innermost secondary; all-rufous inner webs of tail feathers; orange-yellow mouth lining; and paler base to lower mandible. The smaller, paler ash-throated has whitish transition between gray and yellow on underparts, and its tail tip is usually dark not rufous. The smaller Nutting’s and dusky-capped have orange mouth lining; the dusky-capped has much less rufous in tail.

Voice Call: a sharp whit. Breeding, a rough, descending burrrk (or rasp) or whay-burg. Dawn song: repeated whit notes, vibrato whistles, burrrk notes, and other complex phrases.

Status and Distribution Common. Breeding: riparian forest, thorn woodland, columnar cactus desert. Migration: in spring, arrives in Texas exceptionally by mid- to late March, more typically early to mid-April; arrives in Southwest late April–early May. In fall, generally departs August, rare after mid-September. Winter: mexico to Honduras. Vagrant: casual, mainly fall-winter, to coastal Califorinia (magister) and to coastal Texas, Louisiana, and Florida (cooperi, but 1 Louisiana rec. of magister).

Population Stable.

—From the National Geographic book Complete Birds of North America, 2006

Bird Features

  • Photo: A red bird with black wings on a branch

    Backyard Birding Central

    Want to learn more about our feathered friends of the sky? Visit our Backyard Birding site for facts, photos, videos, and more.

  • Illustration: Great horned owl

    What's That Bird?

    Identify your backyard visitors in a flash! Just answer four simple questions to search our database of 150 backyard birds common to Canada and the U.S.

See More Bird Features »

Bird News

See More Animal News »

Birds A-Z


  •  Picture of a Malayan tiger

    Pictures: Tiger Subspecies

    Scientists estimate only about 3,000 wild tigers are left in the entire world. Meet the subspecies and see what threats each is facing.

See more animal photos »

National Geographic Magazine

From the Magazine

  1. Photo of the lions of the Vumbi pride.

    The Surprising Lives of Lions

    In case you missed it: See these breathtaking videos and photos from inside a wild Serengeti pride.

  2. Photo: Two adult preen, Ireland

    Gannets Pictures

    Champion divers but clumsy landers, doting parents but hostile neighbors—northern gannets abound in contradictions.