Pitangus sulphuratus, X takay (Maya)

As I rest on a cool park bench at La Ermita, a sunny yellow-chested bird alights in my shade-producing tree. With that zebra-like striped head and rusty-colored wings and tail, I know exactly which bird has graced my presence. When it loudly calls out its squeaky dog-toy sounds, it says its name, “KIS-ka-DEE! KIS-ka-DEE!” The ten-inch Great Kiskadee has arrived. In Spanish, one of its songs,“bien te veo” can be translated, “Well, I see you.” Well, I see that phrase is in its Spanish name,Luis Bienteveo.

Two similar species occur here. The Social Flycatcher (Myiozetetes similis), a mini-me version, bears a smaller, stubbier bill than the kiskadee. The other look-alike with a similar size, the Boat-billed Flycatcher, (Megarynchus pitangua) sports a larger, broad, stout bill and has primarily brown wings and tail. In flight the Boat-billed Flycatcher looks brownish compared with the reddish-brown appearance of the kiskadee.

Members of the TYRANT flycatcher family, the Great Kiskadee, along with the Social Flycatcher and Boat-billed Flycatcher, exist in the appropriately named family of bird bullies. I’ve seen the kiskadee harass many birds including White-fronted Parrots. To defend their nest, one kiskadee pair even latched on to the tail of a flying toucan which weighed down the larger bird. Just before they all hit the ground, the pair let go and the toucan escaped.

Like many members of the flycatcher family, the Great Kiskadee can catch insects in mid-air or on the ground. That powerful bill pounds its prey of small mammals, lizards, and baby birds against a tree limb. But unlike most other passerine (perching) birds, the Great Kiskadee will dive in water for fish, tadpoles, or frogs. To fish, it sits on top of a rock, log, or a lower limb close to water.  Berries, seeds, and fruit are included in its omnivorous diet, but sources infer it’s mainly an insectivore.

One of the most common birds in Latin America, the range extends from southern Texas to central Argentina. Widespread throughout the peninsula, a brash, noisy pair even visits my Mérida backyard. Habitats include open woodlands, streams, desert scrub, and cities.

In Mérida I hear or see it on Paseo de Montejo, in parking lots, and in the many plazas and parks. It often perches on tree tops or even utility poles to proclaim its territory. Also I find them at all of the Yucatán archaeological sites.

Listen to the squeaky dog-toy-like sounds as you stroll the Merida streets and parks. Here is the sound link:  The “KIS-ka-DEE” is at 25, 45, and 49 seconds.

Nature’s wonders inspire Cherie Pittillo, a wildlife photographer, zoologist, and author. Follow her friendly, feathered journey as she discovers the birds of the Yucatán Peninsula.

Editorial and Photography by Cherie Pittillo for use in Yucatán Today

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