Hammond's Flycatcher at Malheur NWR, Oregon on 29 May, 2010 by Greg Gillson.
[Click to read all Memorial Day weekend at Malheur posts.]
Flycatchers are one of the common migrant birds passing through Malheur refuge headquarters in spring. The bird above is part of a group of about 8 look-a-like flycatchers in the genus Empidonax found in the Pacific NW. These birds can provide much identification challenge and discussion.
On a photo, bill size and color, and primary length past secondary stack are important. In life, tail-wagging behavior can be an important clue. Calls and songs are the best way to identify them, but they are often silent away from their breeding grounds. Plumage color? That doesn't really help all that much; most of them look pretty much the same.
Although I did know the identity of this bird when I took the photo--or thought I did--I don't remember now. Most birds this day were Dusky Flycatchers. But there was one Hammond's Flycatcher present as well. It is not "Western" (Pacific-slope or Cordilleran). It is not Willow. I don't think it is a rare Least Flycatcher. Or is it? I would call it Dusky, but the bill seems a bit short and all-dark. What to do? Ask my friend Dave Irons for his opinion!
...As I was beginning to suspect, Dave calls this a Hammond's, due to large headed look with small all dark bill and fairly long and sharp-pointed primaries....
You know what? This is just like birding at refuge headquarters!
Now that we've seen the north end of the Malheur NWR in SE Oregon, lets drive another 25 miles south. The southern end of the refuge has additional interesting birds...