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Yellow-bellied Flycatcher Life History



Yellow-bellied Flycatchers breed in boreal coniferous forests, bogs, swamps, and peatlands with a thick cover of moss and an understory of shrubs and saplings. In Canada they frequent stands of black spruce with heath, blueberries, laurel, rhododendron, and Labrador tea in the understory, but they also use wet boreal forests and deciduous patches near streams. During migration they use deciduous forests, thickets, and forest edges. On the wintering grounds they occur in dense vegetation often near streams, forest edges, and semiopen habitats, but they are most common in dense rainforest, higher elevation evergreen forests, shade coffee plantations, and pine-oak forests.

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Yellow-bellied Flycatchers forage primarily in the lower to middle levels of the forest where they catch insects in midair or pluck them from vegetation. Their diet consists of crane flies, flying ants, beetles, caterpillars, mosquitoes, midges, stoneflies, and spiders. They occasionally eat fruit, including poison ivy.

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Nest Placement


Females select a shady spot on the ground that is covered in moss and vegetation. They typically place the nest under a tree root, in a hole in a log, under the roots of a fallen tree, or tucked in moss at the base of a fern. The nest site is well concealed and usually invisible from above.

Nest Description

Females collect moss to make the base of the nest, to which they adds grasses and sedges to form a cup-shaped nest. Fine rootlets line the inside of the nest.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:2-5 eggs
Number of Broods:1-2 broods
Egg Length:0.6-0.8 in (1.6-1.9 cm)
Egg Width:0.5-0.6 in (1.2-1.5 cm)
Incubation Period:15 days
Nestling Period:13-15 days
Egg Description:

White with light speckling of fine dots and small blotches of brown around the larger end.

Condition at Hatching:

Naked with eyes closed.

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Yellow-bellied Flycatchers tend to perch in the lower and middle levels of dense forests, where they gently flick their tail and nervously turn their head in search of insects. When they spot something they quickly fly out to grab it in midair or pluck it from the foliage. Males sing to attract a mate and defend their territory, throwing their head back with every note. Intruding flycatchers and predators are met with more vigorous songs, raised head feathers, wing flicks, and drooping wings. Territories aren't just defended on the breeding grounds; Yellow-bellied Flycatchers also defend territories on the wintering grounds giving tu-wee calls as they forage.

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Low Concern

Yellow-bellied Flycatchers are common, and their populations increased around 2% per year between 1966 and 2019, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimated that the global breeding population is 14 million and rates them 9 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of low conservation concern. Yellow-bellied Flycatcher populations appear to be secure throughout Canada and are increasing annually, possibly recovering from extensive forest loss prior to 1966 when the North American Breeding Bird Survey began. Population trends in the United States vary across the region; some areas have seen declines possibly due to spruce die-offs caused by bark beetles.

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Dunne, P. (2006). Pete Dunne's essential field guide companion. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, USA.

Gross, Douglas A. and Peter E. Lowther. (2011). Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (Empidonax flaviventris), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2021.1. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2021.

Partners in Flight. (2020). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2020.

Pieplow, N. (2017). Peterson Field Guide to Bird Sounds of Eastern North America. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, NY, USA.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2019). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2019. Version 2.07.2019. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

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