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#ABArare – Piratic Flycatcher – New Mexico

On September 12, Nevada birder Deb Vogt discovered an odd streaked flycatcher at the well known migration trap of Rattlesnake Springs in Eddy, New Mexico.  She initially identified the bird as the expected Sulpur-belled Flycatcher, but was encouraged by a few with whom she shared photos to consider something different.  The bird has since been tentatively identified as an ABA Code 4 Piratic Flycatcher, Legatus leucophaius (though at the time of this posting the similar Variegated Flycatcher has not been completely ruled out).

PIFL nm 1

Img_0865_Flycatcher_no_compression (1)

PIFL nm 2

Photos by Deb Vogt, used with permission

Rattlesnake Springs is located about 26 miles south of Carlsbad, NM, just north of the Texas border, and about 5 hours south of Albequerque.  From Carlsbad, drive southwest on Hwy 62 for 23.4 miles and look for a sign for Rattlesnake Springs.  Turn west onto Washington Ranch Road (aka, CR 418) (N32.109392  W104.423255), then drive west 1.5 miles to where the road forks.  Follow the fork left. Continue southwest for 0.8 miles to where the road forks again and turn sharply to the north onto a dirt road, drive north about 300 meters and then turn west, then continue west for less than half a mile.

The bird has been seen along the creek in between the bathrooms and the pond, per the AZ-NM listserv.

Piratic Flycatcher is a resident in Mexico as far north as southern Veracruz state.  It is a widespread species, breeding as far south as northern Argentina.  It received its name from its habit of aggressively stealing nests of other species, especially those of becards and oropendolas in Mexico.  It repeatedly drives away original nest owners before removing any existing eggs.  Piratic Flycatcher also takes over abandoned nests, but it is not known to build its own nest.

This species is easy to identify by voice, but is reported as being silent from extralimital records.  By plumage, they are separated from Variegated Flycatcher by Variegated’s more obvious eyebrow and rufous, not brownish tail, along with Piratic’s smaller, wider bill.  The migrant subspecies of Variegated, rufinus, lacks the distinct breast streaking found in Piratic.  For visual comparisons between Variegated and Piratic Flycatchers, Martin Reid’s website (follow the link) has excellent comparisons of the two species.

There are a handful of other Piratic Flycatcher records in the ABA Area since the first in Florida in 1991 (notably misidentified as Variegated Flycatcher initially), the vast majority of which come from Texas.  New Mexico has two prior records, including one from Rattlesnake Springs in 1996.

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Nate Swick

Nate Swick

Editor, Social Media Manager at American Birding Association
Nate Swick is the editor of the American Birding Association Blog, social media manager for the ABA, and the host of the American Birding Podcast. He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Danielle, and two young children. He is the author of Birding for the Curious and The ABA Field Guide to Birds of the Carolinas.
  • Bob Nieman

    Deb found the bird Sept 12 and emailed me Sept 15 that she had a sulphur-bellied flycatcher and I suggested she consider piratic flycatcher. Bird was rediscovered today (Sept 16) in Russian olives south of the bathrooms and seen by many. When I left it sounded like they were leaning toward piratic, but they were hoping to get better views of its tail and back.

  • Thanks Bob, I’ve adjusted the timeline to take that into account.

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