Published On: Mon, Apr 1st, 2019

BACKYARD BIRDING IN MERIDA, YUCATAN AND BEYOND – NOT A TOAD THAT CATCHES FLIES: COMMON TODY-FLYCATCHER

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Tiny male Common Tody-Flycatcher

COMMON TODY-FLYCATCHER: Todirostrum cinereum, Mosquerito Espatulilla Comun (Spanish)

Have you ever misremembered something? You recall a word and take it out of context? Or you only remember one word of a name, rather than the entire name, which sticks with you…for decades?

Friend Marcia assisted in a research study of the nesting habits of a tody, a tiny insectivorous bird.

When I first saw a Common Tody-Flycatcher foraging for insects in a leafy tree at the Rio Lagartos Biosphere Reserve research station, I thought of Marcia and told my friends about her.

And for the next few times, whenever I saw this Cheerio-box-colored bird, whether Mexico or Central and South America, Marcia’s name popped up in my mind. However, I never got a decent photo of it.

Common Tody-Flycatcher male

Found from Southeastern Mexico to Northeastern Argentina, the Common Tody-Flycatcher is, well, common, along secondary forest and forest edges, mangroves, gardens, shady plantations, and basically open or semi-open areas. It may forage alone but usually feeds in pairs or small family groups. When it sallies upward for a short flight to snatch an insect and return to its perch, it exhibits typical flycatcher behavior.

Finally I photographed this tody-flycatcher recently in Panama and as usual…Marcia would be pleased I “saw” her bird. After returning home, I called to ask about her experience to include in my column. When she described her observations, I realized I had the wrong species all these years! Not only that, the bird she referenced ONLY lives in Puerto Rico, the Puerto Rican Tody, which belongs in the group of birds with kingfishers, motmots, rollers, and bee-eaters, not tyrant flycatchers like the Common Tody-Flycatcher. At least both wee birds dine mainly on insects and one source states “Tody means tiny.”

And tiny it is…3.5-3.9 inches with a name that seems longer than the bird! I first glimpsed the lighter-colored female cocking and wagging its tail. A “tail-tell” sign of this thumb-sized species. Another “sign” is the male call during breeding season, a “tick-tick-tick”  counted up to 110 times without stopping (not in this recording).

SOUND LINK: www.xeno-canto.org/373055

Female Common Tody-Flycatcher with cocked tail
Female Common Tody-Flycatcher wags tail to left
Female Common Tody-Flycatcher wags tail to right

But when I saw the male pick at this soft structure dangling from a limb, I assumed it gathered nest material.

Male Common Tody-Flycatcher picks at nest

Again I was wrong! This pair worked on building an organic, non-sustainable nest, basically a pouch composed of fine plant fibers and bound with spiderweb. Whether upside down, sideways, or right side up, each bird stitched in plant fibers with its mouth.

Pair of Common Tody-Flycatchers at nest with female on right
Male Common Tody-Flycatcher weaves plant fiber into nest
Male Common Tody-Flycatcher works on nest
Nest-building by Common Tody-Flycatcher

Unfortunately I had to leave before I witnessed the completed, pouchy nest with a visor built over a side entrance. According to research, only the female sits on two to three eggs, and then both parents feed the chicks until the young leave at about seven weeks.

How marvelous to witness this ethereal, nest creation! And to appreciate a different species from friend Marcia’s study. (Realistically, I’ll probably still think of her, though, whenever I observe another tody-flycatcher and laugh at my misremembrance.)

ETHEREAL BEAUTY AWAITS FOR YOU IN NATURE, WITHOUT HAVING TO KNOW THE NAME OF WHAT YOU WITNESS.

DISCLAIMER: References do not agree on details about these species:

Sal a Pajarear Yucatan, Birds & Reserves of the Yucatan Peninsula, A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America

http://www.scielo.br/pdf/rbzool/v22n4/a36v22n4.pdf

https://neotropical.birds.cornell.edu/Species-Account/nb/species/cotfly1/overview

Kent Livezey, XC373055. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/373055

https://sora.unm.edu/sites/default/files/journals/auk/v095n01/p0199-p0199.pdf

https://sora.unm.edu/sites/default/files/journals/auk/v047n03/p0313-p0322.pdf

THE AUK July 1930, Skutch  THE HABITS AND NESTING ACTIVITIES OF THE NORTHERN TODY FLYCATCHER IN PANAMA.

https://bioone.org/journals/the-auk/volume-122/issue-2/0004-8038(2005)122%5b0708%3aIMAFS%5d2.0.CO%3b2/IN-MEMORIAM-ALEXANDER-F-SKUTCH-19042004/10.1642/0004-8038(2005)122[0708:IMAFS]2.0.CO;2.full

Cherie Pittillo, “nature inspired,” photographer and author, explores nature everywhere she goes. She’s identified 56 bird species in her Merida, Yucatan backyard view. Her monthly column features anecdotes about birding in Merida, Yucatan and also wildlife beyond the Yucatan.

Contact: all4birdies@gmail.com  All rights reserved, ©Cherie Pittillo



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