[Tweeters] mystery black-crested, gray, spider-snagging hoverers (in a yard in Queen Anne in Seattle)

Barbara Deihl barbdeihl at comcast.net
Sun Sep 22 20:13:31 PDT 2013

Some friends of mine (non-birders, but interested), wrote to ask me what they might have seen a few days ago (Fri., when it was still summer) at dinnertime from their patio. Using their observations, I put in a guess of juvenile waxwings of some sort. But the black crest and the white shape with a black outline (or a whitely-outlined black shape), seen particularly by Theresa, who was fascinated with the unusual geometric shape and attempted a drawing of it using some difficult-to-use software. To save anymore embarrassment on Theresa's part, as husband Doug already laughed quite loudly over this drawing and they both now say the only part of it that looks to be what they both remember, is the shape of the white or black spot easily seen when the birds folded their wings on their backs, I will refrain from copying and pasting the photoshop sketch !

Here are some of the quotes they sent me and OK'd me to submit for serious review by any of the birdaphilic sleuths who frequent this list:


The birds were around the size/body shape of a robin (maybe slightly smaller and thinner). Black crested head, with the low crest pointing backwards. Subtle gray body with a warmish tint, perhaps a bit of brown or olive in hue. No spots or speckles on the body or feathers. When perched on a branch with the wings folded together, the distinctive geometric shaped patch (I remember solid white with black outline / Doug believes black with white outline) appeared on the lower part of the wings (we can’t find on any bird photos in books, or Google images that have a similar shaped patch). We aren’t certain of the eye or beak color, but we recall the beak to be shorter, rather than longer. They didn’t stay perched very long, and as they were flying around a tree, and when one snatched a spider from its web in the tree, the birds would hover almost in place, similar to a hummingbird, which really caught our attention. There were around six or so flying and hovering together, all with that same body color, black tuft, and the geometric marking on their folded wings.

There were so many birds flying overhead and all over our backyard. We have a water fountain, and our neighbors have feeders, and it was like bird café central. More birds than we’ve ever seen at one time. We had chickadees, stellar jays, swallows, purple finches, robins, and this small flock of the hovering crested birds all flying around at the same time. It was like having our own private air show. It was pretty wild.

Looking at every page of our brand new [as of today] Stokes Field Guide to Birds in the Western Region book (blue cover, published in 2013) and spending time online, the only birds that were the most similar in appearance were the Waxwings (but the our birds crest was black, and they didn’t have any of the colorful markings on the wings like the Waxwings, plus they had that distinctive patch on their folded wings from my amazing drawing) and the Black Crested Titmouse (but Titmouse don’t have that distinctive patch). Olive Sided Flycatcher, Peewees, Kingbirds, Phoebe, Horned Lark, also seem to share one or two similar features with the birds in our yard, but weren’t a match for other features.


I'm flummoxed, but very intrigued - what could be migrating through or what could have been giddy on fermented berries (I suppose including the 2 observers !) ???

We'll be hovering around our computers, in anticipation of a possible solution to the "Case of the Black-crested Gray Spider-eaters". Have fun with this one :-)

Barb Deihl

North Matthews Beach - NE Seattle

barbdeihl at comcast.net

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