Female Vermilion Flycatcher With A Cicada (And A Dilemma)
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I’ve described how Vermilion Flycatchers excel at catching insects in flight. he ability to run down and seize tiny flying insects, some almost invisible to the human eye, is something that they share with other flycatcher species. The other day I photographed a female Vermilion Flycatcher who had hit the jackpot. She’d captured a cicada during its last pre-adult molt, apparently plucking the insect as it rested on a tree. Cicadas spend most of their lives underground as larvae. After years underground, as many as 17 years, they surface, climb up the trunk of a tree, undergo a final molt, and then emerge as fully fledged insects. They are very vulnerable to being preyed upon during that last molt and for many birds the emergence of cicadas is a feeding bonanza.
The catch was a real prize for the flycatcher, many times the size of the much smaller insects that she normally captures. A cicada-size meal is probably the equivalent of Thanksgiving dinner for one of these little birds.
But, now she faced a dilemma. How to swallow her prize? The insect was huge in comparison to the flycatcher’s tiny beak and gullet. I watched for more than a minute as she struggled to get the meal down her throat, with no apparent success. Flycatchers, lacking teeth and chewing muscles, swallow their prey whole. The cicada seemed to be more than a mouthful for the little bird.
Eventually, she flew away, still clutching her prize. I have no idea whether she was successful eventually or not.
Images made with a Canon 5Div, 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 ISII zoom lens+1.4x telextender, M setting, ISO 640, f8 @ 1/1250.