The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Flycatcher

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FLYCATCHER, one of many birds which catch insects in the air. More restrictedly, in ornithology, birds of the Old World insectivorous family Muscicapidæ, allied to the thrushes; this is a group very difficult to limit or define. All these are small, active birds, with great activity in flight and skill in seizing their agile prey; and all have broad flattened beaks, at the base of which is a growth of long stiff rictal bristles. The feet are usually weak and the wings long and pointed. Four or five species are common summer visitors to Europe, including the familiar and typical spotted flycatcher (Muscicapa grisola) and the pied or blackcap (M. atricapilla). In all the hotter latitudes of the Old World the species are very numerous, and ornate, many being crested, or having, in the case of the males at least, very long tail-feathers, which are handled most gracefully. Such are the paradise flycatchers (genus Tersiphone) of India and eastward, the Japanese species of which is so commonly represented on painted or embroidered screens. The “fantail” (q.v.) is another species remarkable in its flight. Most of these flycatchers are birds of the woods, and are usually solitary and silent, feeding on little except insects, which are habitually caught upon the wing with an audible snap of the bill. Some of the smaller ones are sometimes called “flysnappers.” They nest in various situations, and many make highly beautiful receptacles for their variously decorated eggs.

None of the muscicapids is to be found in the New World, but America has a large family of flycatchers (the Tyrannidæ) just as suitably so-called as are the others, so far as habits are concerned; nor are they far removed in structure. This family contains some 400 species, mainly tropical, and chiefly of an olive-green, or black-and-gray complexion, often with ornamental touches of scarlet on the head or wings. The bill is rather stronger as a rule than in the Old World flycatchers, and often decidedly hooked, like that of vireos or shrikes. The wings are usually short, and the tail varies greatly, sometimes being beautifully prolonged, as in the scissor-tailed flycatcher of the western United States. The genus Alectrurus presents still more striking examples of very long and beautifully modified tail plumes. Good examples of this group are the king-birds, pipiris, pewees, vermilion flycatcher, and scissor-tail, elsewhere described. An excellent general account of these families will be found in Evans' ‘Birds’ (London and New York 1900).

Ernest Ingersoll.


Americana 1920 Flycatcher.jpg
1 Spotted Flycatcher 4 Kingbird
2 Pied Flycatcher 5 Bienteveo
3 White-collared and Red-breasted Flycatchers