Park anywhere in one of the many parks and public areas along the San Felipe Creek, step out of your vehicle and listen.
Nine times out of 10, one of the first sounds you will hear is the raucous calling of one or more Great Kiskadees, a type of flycatcher that reaches the northernmost end of its large range in south Texas.
Great Kiskadees are easy to find and identify.
Their boisterous calls, which echo their name – kis-kah-dee! kis-kah-dee! – make them hard to overlook, and their plumage is equally striking – a bold, bandit’s headgear of a black mask set off by bands of white and a lemon yellow chest and abdomen complemented by a chocolate brown back and wings that taper to cinnamon tips and tail.
Great Kiskadees aren’t solitary birds, and prefer to travel in groups.
Totally anthropomorphic, I know, but these groups remind me of noisy families I have known, including the Gleasons and the Staseys, the Boy’s wife’s people.
One or two or three kiskadees together are quite loud, but when you get a half-dozen, or a dozen or more, the noise level can be impressive.
I looked up the collective noun for a group of kiskadees, and the only thing I could find was “a shower of kiskadees.” There are other collective nouns for groups of flycatchers, such as an “outfield,” a “swatting,” a “zapper” or a “zipper.” I’d suggest “a cacophony of kiskadees.”
Great Kiskadees are such a fixture along the San Felipe Creek, it’s hard to imagine the place without them, but they have only been permanent residents of the creek for a fairly short time.
I’m told the first Great Kiskadees were recorded along the creek in the mid 1970s. I know when I began bird watching seriously in the late 1980s and early 1990s, there were kiskadees along the creek, but not in the numbers there are today.
Also, one rarely found them north of the railroad tracks. Today, on most mornings, I can also hear kiskadees when I open the windows of the studio in my north Del Rio apartment.
Like many other neotropical bird species, Great Kiskadees have followed the Rio Grande riparian corridor north and west, finding in Del Rio the perfect “forward operating base” for further expansion.
Great Kiskadees have historically wandered far north of their “normal” range: Several years ago, one was found and photographed in South Dakota, causing quite a stir among birders there, as you can well imagine.
Noisy and noticeable, Great Kiskadees are here to stay.