Great-crested flycatchers are big, showy, and noisy, but are a mystery to many casual birders. The most obvious clue to their presence is a frequent, loud breep call, given once or in a series, that comes down from the tree canopy. If the bird is really excited the call may transform into a rapid-fire bip bip bip bip. It is very distinctive. I receive recordings of the call from readers ID requests just as much as I receive photos of the birds.
They are equally at home in deep woods or in a residential setting, indeed they often use man-made structures to nest in. Being cavity nesters like Eastern bluebirds they may try to take over a mailbox, a compartment of a purple martin house, a wood duck box, or a hole in your home’s soffit. The flycatchers are about nine inches long so a standard bluebird box is too small. If you become aware that your property is attractive to them, I highly recommend providing a box for them. Local wild bird stores may have some custom-made great-crested flycatcher nest boxes too.
Cavity nesters like the Eastern bluebird or Carolina chickadee are well provided for as far as available nest boxes, the great-crested flycatcher not so much. There is a shortage of natural cavity availability for the species; they need our help in providing nesting sites.
An interesting habit for them is to place something shiny or reflective in their nests. Often it is some cellophane trash or even a shed snake skin. They may do this to discourage nest predators, sometimes the snake skin is loosely attached so that it trails out from the nest or moves in the breeze.
Like blue jays, the great-crested leads the charge physically and vocally when a predator is in the vicinity. They are the neighborhood watch when it comes to snakes, hawks, owls, crows, and cats.
They are good sized birds too, about nine inches long. With their rufous-brown upperparts and bright yellow belly they are quite attractive neighbors.