Birding Community E-Bulletin – May 2012

May 2012

This Birding Community E-bulletin is being distributed to active and concerned birders, those dedicated to the joys of birding and the protection of birds and their habitats.

This issue is sponsored by the producers of superb quality birding binoculars and scopes, Carl Zeiss Sport Optics:

You can access an archive of past E-bulletins on the website of the National Wildlife Refuge Association (NWRA):


On Tuesday, 17 April, brothers Aaron and Ethan Gyllenhaal observed and photographed a strange flycatcher at Douglas Park in Lawndale, Chicago, Illinois. One brother thought it might be a “weird Least Flycatcher,” the other thought the bird was too “odd.” Aaron Gyllenhaal posted his flycatcher photos, and quickly speculation and excitement began. It was soon determined that what the brothers had seen was a flycatcher of the genus Elaenia, one of a group of often difficult-to-identify tropical flycatchers. But which one? Quickly the choices were reduced to two: White-crested Elaenia or Small-billed Elaenia. These are both species from South America, both Austral migrants. Austral migrants are South American bird species which migrate northward during the austral winter and could “overshoot” to North America.

Whichever species it was, the bird was an astounding 7,000+ miles north of its normal range.

Here are some of the original photos, taken by Aaron Gyllenhaal (and a sample of the online discussion that followed):

The good news is that differentiation between these two species is relatively easy if the bird vocalizes. The bad news is that for its entire stay in this small and lovely urban park, the Eleania was never heard to vocalize. Not once!

The speculation first leaned toward White-crested Elaenia (a species which has been seen previously only once in North America), but then seemed to swing toward Small-billed Elaenia, a species never previously seen in North America.

The uncertainty, however, did not deter scores of birders from rushing to Chicago to see it. Many, many birders saw the rarity through the afternoon of the following Sunday, 22 April, when it was last observed.

The excitement over the bird was even covered by the CHICAGO TRIBUNE:

As we send out this E-bulletin, the jury is still out on the precise identity of the Elaenia. The discovery of this cryptic bird raises another vital question, however. One can only wonder how many other such tropical flycatchers seen in North America might have been passed off as “just another Empidonax flycatcher” or even as simply “a strange pewee. ” There is a lesson here: Look twice and look carefully!


We have covered the issue of tall buildings and glass-and-glare threatening migrating birds many times in the E-bulletin. Most recently, we wrote about bird-friendly design in December:

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