Saskatchewan flycatchers are of the New World family Tyrannidae, usually called the “tyrant flycatchers,” to distinguish them from other families of small songbirds with the habit of sitting on an exposed perch and sallying out in pursuit of a single insect. All of these are called “flycatchers.” The tyrant flycatchers make up a large family of about 420 species, with thirty-seven occurring in North America. They are large-headed, with broad bills, and sit erect at the ends of branches or other open perch. They often have a small crest. Many look very similar, making their identification difficult; it is often necessary to hear their call rather than judging by their appearance. Their habit of fiercely protecting their territory from other birds, including larger ones, gives them their common name of “tyrant” flycatcher. Thus, we often see kingbirds chasing hawks, crows, robins, and other species.

Saskatchewan has confirmed records of fourteen species; all are migratory. The regularly occurring species belong to five genera. The genus Contopus contains the olive-sided flycatcher (C. borealis), a fairly common breeding species in the boreal forests, and two species of pewees: the Western wood-pewee (C. sordidulus), a regular breeder in the southern boreal forest and prairie woodlots; and the Eastern wood-pewee (C. virens), a rare breeder in the southeast. Both pewees are drab greyish-brown birds with wingbars, and they are distinguished by their calls.

The genus Empidonax contains five species of small (12-13 cm) flycatchers which are so similar that many birders simply identify them by the genus. The most abundant is the little least flycatcher (E. minimus), nesting throughout most of the province except for the north; its ringing chee-bek is a familiar sound. The alder flycatcher (E. alnorum) is also fairly common throughout the centre, while the more strongly marked yellow-bellied flycatcher (E. flaviventris) is occasionally seen and heard in the bogs of the boreal region. The willow flycatcher (E. traillii), closely related to the alder flycatcher, is apparently limited to the river valley woodlands of the south. The dusky flycatcher (E. oberholseri), a western species, has been identified only in the Cypress Hills.

The Eastern phoebe (Sayornis phoebe) is a dark-backed light-bellied bird which is a fairly common nester in the middle of the province, nesting near water. Say's phoebe (S. saya) is more brightly coloured, with a grey back and head, black tail, and light orange chest and belly; it nests in the southwest and is occasionally seen further east and north. The great crested flycatcher (Myiarchus crinitus) is a larger (24 cm) brown bird with tawny outer primaries and tail, which nests in the transition deciduous woodlands of the south-central region. The kingbirds, which are about the same size, are more common birds. The yellow-bellied, grey-backed Western kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis) is a common nester in farm shelterbelts and other areas of plantings in the grasslands. The Eastern kingbird (T. tyrannus), with its dark grey back and head, white belly and white terminal tail band, is common in the shrubs, tree stands and coulee trees of the south. In the north it is less common, nesting in shrubby open areas. The distinctive scissor-tailed flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus) is a straggler from the southern United States.

Diane Secoy

Further Reading

Alsop, F.J., III. 2002. Birds of Canada. New York: Dorling Kindersley.