Olive-sided Flycatcher: Bird Finder for August 20
Contopus cooperi by Nick Bonomo
While most birders spend their August mornings along the coast searching for shorebirds and terns, those who spend these days in and around the woods might be pleasantly surprised by this early boreal migrant.
What it looks like: The Olive-sided Flycatcher is a mid-sized flycatcher that might best be described as “sturdy.” Its broad shoulders give this bird a strong and confident look as it overlooks open areas from its lofty perch. It is plain dark olive above, sometimes showing white patches at the sides of its rump when these feathers are fluffed out. Its high-contrast underside is white with dark olive breast sides, forming a “vest.” It has a short, dark tail and dark cheeks that contrast with its white throat.
Where to find it: Olive-sided Flycatchers often choose the tallest perch in the area, usually the very top of a dead snag, from which they hunt flying insects. It favors semi-forested areas, or clearings in the forests themselves. In Connecticut, they are often seen during migration near inland swamps, which best match the boggy boreal habitat in which they breed to our north.
Confusion species: The common and closely-related Eastern Wood-Pewee also has a habit of flycatching from the tops of snags, and their color pattern is vaguely similar to that of the Olive-sided Flycatcher. However, the pewee is a low-contrast blend of grays, browns, and whites, and they nearly always show distinct wingbars and have longer tails.
Another bird that can temporarily play tricks is a juvenile Cedar Waxwing due to its dark breast sides and habit of flycatching over open areas. A second look at the waxwing, however, will reveal a crest, black mask, brown back and yellow-tipped tail.
When to look: This species’ southbound migration is very early relative to other boreal breeders. Most have already passed through the region before the calendar turns to September. In spring, they are actually quite late, with their passage peaking during the last week of May and first week of June.
Conservation status: This species, like many boreal forest breeders, is in decline due to habitat loss on both its breeding and wintering grounds. It is classified by the IUCN as “Near Threatened.” Its population should be monitored for further decline, and causes of this decline must be further studied.
Photo by Dominic Sherony, Carolinabirds.org.