Find Feathered Friends – September 2009

Find Feathered Friends

By John Keeling

Influx of Tropical Flycatchers


find_sep09Within the last two years I have seen growing numbers of Social Flycatchers visiting my garden in upper Ajijic. These birds are difficult to distinguish from the commonly occurring ‘Great Kiskadee’ which is well known for its prominent yellow breast and strident kee-ka-deee call. The Social Flycatcher, however, is only two-thirds the size of the Kiskadee, and has olive wings instead of the warm reddish brown flight feathers of the Kiskadee.

I first encountered these birds some four years ago when visiting in Riberas del Pilar. A group of them were noisily chattering away “chee-uk, kachee-kachee-kachee” among the palm trees. They seem to love palm trees.

They are tropical flycatchers occurring year round from southern Brazil to northern Mexico. They eat insects such as bees, spiders and dragonflies, and in season they will also eat fruit and large seeds. They nest here, building one of the most untidy nests you have ever seen. It is typically made from straw, dry plant stems and even pieces of plastic, in a tree about nine feet off the ground. The entrance to the nest is a short tunnel at the side of the stack of straw.

When I first saw these birds in Riberas near the lake, they never came up the hill as far as my garden. Yet nowadays they visit my neighbor’s palm trees for the seeds everyday.

More recently I happened to notice the range map drawn for Social Flycatchers in the essential bird book for Mexico by Howell and Webb, 1995. The map was carefully drawn to go around Lake Chapala, indicating that they were not to be found here. It appears that a change has taken place over the last 15 years. Who knows what caused these flycatchers to expand their range? Wild creatures must always be open to new opportunities to find food, and more suitable places to nest.

Some birds appear more adaptable and more willing to move and relocate than others. As an example, the European house sparrow was introduced to the U.S. in 1850, and is now found wherever there are human habitations.

As another example, the annual Christmas bird counts conducted across North America show many species spending their winter holiday each year a bit further north than before. Over the period 1996 to 2005, the American robin was found 200 miles further north, and the purple finch 400 miles further north. This particular series of relocations is ascribed to rising average winter temperatures over the last ten years. In nature, adaptability is of vital importance.

Editor’s Note: John Keeling and his wife lead ‘Los Audubonistas del Lago,’ which is a loose-knit group of people interested in birds. To receive notices of events please leave your e-mail address at

For more information about Lake Chapala visit:

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