This is the “default” Myiarchus of eastern North America. A large, stout-bodied species, it is usually heard more frequently than seen as it forages high in the canopy or subcanopy. Monotypic (previously considered polytypic). Length 6.8–8.4".
Key characters include a broad white stripe on the innermost secondary, mostly rufous inner webs of tail feathers, and overall darker plumage. Longer winged than other Myiarchus, it appears proportionately shorter tailed. Adult: dark gray face and breast (slightly paler throat) contrasts sharply with bright yellow belly; these colors blend at sides of breast to form olive-green patches. Brown crown blends to olive-brown back. Bill, proportionately long and thick, is black with a pale brown base to the lower mandible (most individuals). The mouth lining is bright orange-yellow, occasionally flesh-colored or dull yellow. Juvenile: similar but duller and paler below; olive breast patches less obvious; has rusty secondary edges (but innermost 2–3 edged white) and wing bars. Immature brighter, like adult, but wing bars and most secondary edges still rusty.
Pale or bleached great cresteds are superficially similar to brown-cresteds or ash-throateds, but they still exhibit key field marks. Tails of juvenile brown-cresteds and ash-throateds are like the great crested’s but overall paler and lack broad white stripe on innermost secondary.
Call: most familiar is an ascending whee-eep but also gives purr-it and series of whit notes. Dawn song: a continuously repeated series of modified whee-eeps.
Status and Distribution
Common. Breeding: deciduous or mixed forest. Migration: in spring, primarily western circum-Gulf, but some trans-Gulf, mid-March–early June. In fall, both circum- and trans-Gulf, mid-July–mid-October. Winter: southeastern Mexico to Colombia and Venezuela; also southern Florida. Vagrant: rare to casual/accidental, mainly in fall, to West Coast, Alaska, Northwest Territories, Newfoundland, Bermuda, Bahamas, Cuba, and Puerto Rico.
—From the National Geographic book Complete Birds of North America, 2006