CATCHING FLIES: CRESCENT-EYED (CUBAN) PEWEE ON ABACO


Crescent-eyed (Cuban) Pewee on Abaco 6

One of the prettiest small birds to photograph on Abaco is the Crescent-eyed, or Cuban, Pewee Contopus caribaeus. These small flycatchers are as interested in your struggles with your camera settings and your ‘stealthy’ (yet clumsy) approach, as you are in their cute poses. It’s a symbiotic relationship – you may get nice pictures, they have a benign laugh at your efforts.Crescent-eyed (Cuban) Pewee on Abaco 2

This bird was one of a pair we found at a magical corner of scrubland at a crossroad of tracks between the edge of the pine forest and a backcountry of derelict and overgrown sugar cane fields – the perfect habitat for a wide variety of species. The pewees had a nest hidden deep in the undergrowth, but were tame enough to be untroubled by our presence. They kept calm and carried on as usual.Crescent-eyed (Cuban) Pewee on Abaco 1Crescent-eyed (Cuban) Pewee on Abaco 5

These little birds are resident in Cuba and the Northern Bahamas. I have previously posted photos of them, taken by the beach at Casuarina, HERE. They are the smallest flycatchers – tyrannidae – on Abaco, a family that includes LA SAGRA’S FLYCATCHER, and the larger Loggerhead & Gray Kingbirds. Here’s a recording of cuban pewees made on Abaco (credit: Jesse Fagan / Xeno-Canto)

Crescent-eyed (Cuban) Pewee on Abaco 3Crescent-eyed (Cuban) Pewee on Abaco 4

They often have a charmingly quizzical or watchful expressionCrescent-eyed (Cuban) Pewee on Abaco 8Crescent-eyed (Cuban) Pewee on Abaco 7

“Magical Corner”, Abaco – birding hotspot. Location on application. $$ only please (©Tom Sheley)Birdwatching Hotspot, Abaco Backcountry ©Tom Sheley

CUBAN PEWEE: NATURE’S LEAST SCARY TYRANT


Cuban Pewee Abaco 8

CUBAN PEWEE: NATURE’S LEAST SCARY TYRANT

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image.aspxThe CUBAN PEWEE Contopus caribaeus bahamensis, also known as the Crescent-eyed Pewee (see photos for details), is a tyrant. At 6″ long , the smallest tyrant you are likely to encounter in the Bahamas, but undoubtedly a member of the family Tyrranidae. These are the flycatchers, and include the larger LA SAGRA’S FLYCATCHER and the still larger Loggerhead and Gray Kingbirds. The Cuban Pewee is permanently resident on Abaco, and can be found in both pine woods and coppice. When returning to its perch after a flycatching sortie, this bird gives a characteristic flick of the tail.

The little bird below was in the edge of the coppice bordering the long sandy beach at Casuarina. Bruce Hallett, in his essential book  ‘Birds of the West Indies…’ notes that Cuban Pewees are ‘usually approachable’, so I decided to test this out. I was about 20 feet from the bird when I first saw it. By sliding one foot forward in the sand and pausing before moving the other foot, I got to within 5 feet of the bird, while it watched my approach with apparent indifference. Unlike some creatures, it did not seem discomfited by eye-contact. It responded when I made a faint clicking sound by rather sweetly putting its head on one side.  Then it began to fidget slightly – possibly feeling camera-shy. So I shuffled slowly back so as not to disturb it in its own territory.

The close-ups at the end clearly show the tiny hooked tip at the end of the upper beak – I imagine this somehow relates to the business of catching flies. Like other flycatchers, the Cuban Pewee has very distinctive whiskers around the base of the beak – again I presume this assists with feeding in some way, perhaps helping to sense the approach of an insect. Any expert views welcome via the comment box.

Cuban Pewee Abaco 1Cuban Pewee Abaco 7Cuban Pewee Abaco 6 Cuban Pewee Abaco 5 Cuban Pewee Abaco 4Cuban Pewee Abaco 9 Cuban Pewee Abaco 10It’s occasionally tempting to anthropomorphise such close encounters in terms of imputed human / creature empathy. Much best to resist that. But as I withdrew, leaving this little  bird undisturbed on its branch, I did experience a strange feeling of… [I must interrupt myself here. I'm a lawyer, so that's quite enough of that sort of nonsense]

LA SAGRA’S FLYCATCHER: A SMALL TYRANT ON ABACO


LA SAGRA’S FLYCATCHER: A SMALL TYRANT ON ABACO

LA SAGRA’S FLYCATCHER Myiarchus sagrae is a non-migratory bird quite frequently seen in the Abaco pine forest and scrubland. It  is resident throughout the year on Abaco, as elsewhere within its distribution range (see map below) – also occasionally found as a vagrant in southern Florida. It is a ‘tyrant flycatcher’, a passerine species found throughout the Americas that includes kingbirds, pewees and phoebes.

The conservation status of this flycatcher is ‘Least Concern’

The LSF’s natural habitat is subtropical forest and rough scrubland. It builds its nest in a tree cavity or similar natural hole, and usually lays a clutch of two to four eggs. 

Adult La Sagra’s Flycatchers, unlike many avians, are very similar in appearance in both sexes.

As the name suggests, the species is primarily insectivore, fly-catching in the undergrowth and low scrub. However these birds also eat berries and seeds. Their call is a high pitched single or double noted sound described as ‘wink’. Here’s an example from the Bahamas by Paul Driver @ Xeno-Canto

And who or what the heck was La Sagra? The answer is: multi-talented Spanish botanist Ramón Dionisio José de la Sagra y Peris (1798–1871), who was also a writer, economist, sociologist, politician, anarchist, and founder of the world’s first anarchist journal El Porvenir (“The Future”). At one time he lived in Cuba and became director of Havana’s Botanical Garden; his name lives on arguably more significantly in ornithological than in anarchist circles (actually, an ‘anarchist circle’ must surely be a contradiction in terms…)

I note in passing that La Sagra is a provincial area in Spain, an Italian festive celebration, a chocolatier, or a small comet – all of which meanings may have to be negotiated online before you get to the flycatcher…

Ramón Dionisio José de la Sagra y PerisFinally, to continue with the recently introduced avian philatelic theme, here are stamps from the Cayman Islands and Cuba featuring the La Sagra’s Flycatcher. The Cuban stamp commemorates the death of Juan Gundlach, the man who chose La Sagra’s name to bestow on this bird