The Tyrant

Happy Draw a Bird Day! To celebrate, I present, my first tyrant flycatcher drawing!

The Cuban Pewee, or Crescent-eyed Pewee, Contopus caribaeus, resides in Cuba and The Bahamas, and is occasionally sighted on the southeast coast of Florida. Keith Salvesen recently posted some lovely photos on his blog Rolling Harbour Abaco and he was cool with me using them for a Cuban Pewee drawing adventure.

I’m pleased that the bird in my drawing looks sweet-as-can-be and has a beautiful eye, and I like the colours and patterns of the branches and background. However, I’m not jazzed about the streakiness of the feathers. Hoping for more gentle feathery textures and easier control of varying grey shades, I grabbed 2H and HB graphite pencils and a kneaded eraser. I chose a different photo because that open bill is just marvellous! Clearly, Keith and the Cuban Pewees are good friends.

The title of Keith’s blog post, Cuban Pewee: Nature’s Least Scary Tyrant, made me wonder why the New World Flycatchers’ family is called Tyrannidae. Why oh why is the sweet-looking Cuban Pewee a tyrant flycatcher?

The best Google Search clue was a broken link to a 2014 Birdwatching article by Kenn Kaufman in which he attributes the name “tyrant” to Mark Catesby. More reliably, An Inquiry into the History of the Current English Names of North American Land Birds (Spencer Trotter, The Auk, 1909), links the name “tyrant” with Catesby.

In 1731, Mark Catesby published the first edition of the first volume of his masterpiece, The natural history of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands. He gave the present day Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus) the English name The Tyrant and the Latin name Muscicapa corona rubra, which means red-crowned flycatcher. Muscicapa comes from the Latin musca (fly) and capere (catch). Be warned, a little s looks a lot like a little f…

The male Eastern Kingbird is a courageous and aggressive defender of his territory and his offspring!

From 1731, I slowly travelled forward in time, following the progress of the name tyrant from species name, to genus name and finally to family name. The official start of modern zoological binomial nomenclature was in 1758 with the 10th edition of Carl Linnaeus’ Systema Naturae. Linnaeus’ gave the Eastern Kingbird the Latin name Lanius tyrannus.

The 10th edition of Systema Naturae did not have families. Bird species were divided into 6 orders which were subdivided into genera. Linnaeus includes various flycatchers named Muscicapa something-or-other by other naturalists, but he does not include the genus Muscicapa. He distributes flycatchers among other genera: Fringilla, Lanius, Motacilla and Turdus. After 1758, a few more ornithological developments needed to take place before the formation of today’s Muscicapidae and Tyrannidae families, the Old World and New World Flycatchers. Perhaps I’ll pick up the topic again in a later post…


    • Thanks, Carol :-). I’m happy you enjoyed this post. I think that was the oldest book I ever looked at. It was tricky to read at first, but I had fun once I got the hang of it. Happy Draw A Bird Day! I’m looking forward to your next bird!!!

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  1. In your first drawing, the eye really draws one’s attention and gives the bird the sweet expression you mentioned. The second bird looks slightly mischievous, as if it’s ready to have a little fun. πŸ™‚
    I love the tyrants I have encountered, the Cuban Pewee not being one of them.

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    • The second one does look like a jolly, mischievous fellow :-). Thanks for sharing your observations. I like finding out what catches people’s eyes in my drawings.

      I’m not very familiar with flycatchers. I’ve mostly caught glimpses of them during migration. I did get to hear an Alder Flycatcher sing late last spring, which I was super excited about. I even played its song, something I hadn’t done before. He responded by flying out of hiding, looking quite excited. He perched near me and burst into song!

      Which flycatchers are familiar to you?

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      • We actually get a good variety of them in Colorado. Western Wood Pewees, Western and Eastern Kingbirds, Say’s Phoebes, and Cordilleran Flycatchers are common, and a few other flycatchers occur occasionally. I find all of them spectacular. I just had my first encounter with an Eastern Phoebe in the last week, and was thrilled to add a life bird to my list. 😊

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    • Hi Wayne :-). Nice of you to check in. I’ve got a bit more stressful stuff going on than I would like and that often makes me disengage socially. I hope to re-engage soon! Hope you are well. I haven’t peaked at your blog since Mother’s Day. I really enjoyed your mom and cub bear photo. Wonderful!


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