Winter brings good tidings for birdwatchers in Bangladesh. The pleasant weather gives us an incentive to explore the woods, fields and waterways. It is easier to find birds because the avian population swells due to the arrival of migrant birds.
When we think of migratory birds we often think of ducks and shorebirds; in reality, birds of all sizes and shapes migrate to our land. Among them are about a dozen species of delightful little creatures called flycatchers, most of them from the bird family Muscicapidae. They show up all over and it is likely that a flycatcher is spending the winter close to you.
The flycatcher is a small bird whose main diet is flying insects. It often sits on a high, visible perch and intently scans all directions for flying insects. From this perch it flies off chasing insects. This aerial chase, called a sally, is often acrobatic as the flycatcher twists, turns, shoots up and dives down to catch the insect in flight. After the catch it often returns to the same perch to finish its meal.
This habit of perching on a high, visible spot (as opposed to, say, skulking behind leaves) makes flycatchers attractive to observers and photographers.
Perhaps the most common flycatcher we see in winter is the Taiga Flycatcher. Slightly smaller and rounder than a sparrow, this brown and beige bird can be seen in parks, lakes, open woodlands and inside the forest. In Dhaka, I have seen it in the Botanical Garden, Baridhara's Lakeside Park, and Purbachol, taking its place at a commanding perch from where it can look for flying morsels of food.
Most flycatchers are drab, but we have some pretty ones too. These include the blue Verditer Flycatcher seen in and around forests. Several other blue flycatchers, including the red-and-blue Blue-throated Flycatcher, are harder to find. The graceful Asian Paradise Flycatcher is a year-round resident. Its male in breeding season has an exquisitely long white tail that streams behind in flight. I found it deep inside Satchori forest. Another year-round flycatcher is the Black-naped Monarch. The male is a jewel-like deep azure with a black crown; the female is a paler blue and brown. I found this shy bird in several places including Koromjol in Sundarban.
In behaviour, I find the Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher to be the most delightful. After taking a perch on a branch, it continues its aerial sorties non-stop in all directions chasing insects. In my experience it is approachable. It sports a smart and mischievous look and makes up for its lack of pretty colours with a great personality. A square grey head adds to its charm.
Globally, flycatchers are broadly divided into the Old World and New World groupings. Of the 115 species of Old World flycatchers, about fifteen are seen in Bangladesh. On the other hand, New World flycatchers of the Americas comprise the family of Tyrannidae (Tyrants) which, at 429 species, is the largest bird family on earth.
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