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Ash-throated Flycatcher

Myiarchus cinerascens ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: TYRANNIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

With its pale lemon belly and cinnamon tail, the Ash-throated Flycatcher is reminiscent of a desert just before sunset. Its subtle hues help it blend into its surroundings, but notes sputter out of its mouth all morning long, giving away its location. This genteel flycatcher tips its head side to side with seeming curiosity while perched among low oaks and mesquite trees. It is a die-hard bird of dry places that doesn't need to drink water; it gets all it needs from the insects and spiders it eats.

At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
7.5–8.3 in
19–21 cm
Wingspan
11.8–12.6 in
30–32 cm
Weight
0.7–1.3 oz
21–38 g
Relative Size
Larger than a Western Bluebird, smaller than an American Robin.
Other Names
  • Tyran à gorge cendrée (French)

Cool Facts

  • Like many other desert animals such as the kangaroo rat, Ash-throated Flycatchers don’t need to drink water. Instead they get it all from the food they eat.
  • Growing new feathers is energetically costly. That might be why Ash-throated Flycatchers make a so-called “molt migration” after breeding to areas in Mexico that are flush with insects. The plentiful food provides energy and nutrients for the flycatchers’ growing feathers. Unlike some eastern migrants, Ash-throated Flycatchers take more than a month to grow new feathers.
  • Ash-throated Flycatchers are secondary cavity nesters and they are good at finding places to put their nests—even unusual locations including pipes, fence posts, and clothes hanging on a line.
  • Unlike most members of its genus, the Ash-throated Flycatcher only occasionally uses snakeskin in its nest. Only 5% of nests examined contained reptile skin, but 98% had mammal hair. Rabbit fur was the most frequently used.
  • The Ash-throated Flycatcher is a rare but regular vagrant to the East Coast. Individuals turn up nearly every year across the U.S. and they have been found in all coastal states and provinces. See where they have been seen at eBird.
  • Everyone likes to be heard and that may go for birds as well. Researchers examined how loud birds sang in different environments. They found that in noisy environments some birds sang louder or changed their pitch to be heard over the noise, while other birds left the area altogether. In their experiments, Ash-throated Flycatchers in noisy environments sang at a slightly higher pitch than birds not subjected to increased noise.
  • The oldest recorded Ash-throated Flycatcher was just under 12 years old, when it was recaptured and rereleased during a banding operation in California in 2008. It had been banded in the same state in 1997.

Habitat


Open Woodland

The Ash-throated Flycatcher lives in dry scrub, open woodlands, and deserts in the West from sea level to about 9,000 feet elevation. In this habitat, typical tree and shrub species include oak, juniper, pinyon pine, Joshua tree, yucca, palo verde, mesquite, acacia, and ironwood. As a cavity-nesting bird, Ash-throated Flycatchers need habitat with standing dead trees with natural cavities or those created by woodpeckers. During the nonbreeding season, they use similar habitats in Mexico and along the Pacific coast to Honduras, but they also use parks, woodlots, hedgerows, suburban areas, dry subtropical forest scrub, and dry deciduous tropical forest.

Food


Insects

Ash-throated Flycatchers primarily eat spiders and insects such as wasps, bees, bugs, tree hoppers, stink bugs, moths, caterpillars, flies, including larvae. When available they also supplement their diet with small fruits from cardon, saguaro, and mistletoe. They often forage lower to the ground and in relatively open habitats. They hunt insects by flying up from perches to catch them in midair, or by grabbing them while they slowly moving from perch to perch scanning for prey on leaves and twigs.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
2–7 eggs
Number of Broods
1-2 broods
Egg Length
0.8–1 in
2–2.5 cm
Egg Width
0.6–0.7 in
1.5–1.8 cm
Incubation Period
14–16 days
Nestling Period
13–17 days
Egg Description
Creamy white with reddish brown streaks and elongated blotches.
Condition at Hatching
Naked with a few tufts of down. Eyes closed.
Nest Description

The female presumably builds the nest. She fashions twigs, rootlets, grass, pieces of cow manure, and strips of bark into a cup-shaped nest that she then lines with hair, fur, feathers, or cotton. Nest construction takes 1–7 days, depending on the size of the cavity selected.

Nest Placement

Cavity

Ash-throated Flycatchers are secondary cavity nesters, meaning that they rely on nest holes originally made by other species, such as woodpeckers, or they use naturally occurring cavities in standing dead trees. They also nest in artificial cavities of all sorts including nest boxes, fence posts, metal posts, mailboxes, metal guy-wire frames, and other structures. Nest height varies considerably and can be as much as 70 feet high. Pairs may occasionally reuse the cavity in subsequent years.

Behavior


Hovering

Ash-throated Flycatchers forage in the lower levels of trees and shrubs. They sally out and back from perches to pick prey from foliage or off the ground. They also search for insects by slowly moving from perch to perch. Like other Myiarchus flycatchers, they tend to lean forward on their perches and move their heads up and down, especially when agitated. When temperatures rise, they perch in the shade or hold their folded wings away from their body. Even though they live in hot climates, apparently they do not drink water; instead they obtain it all from the food they eat. Ash-throated Flycatchers are possessive when it comes to nesting cavities. They evict other cavity-nesting species such as Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Bewick’s Wrens, Mountain Bluebirds, and Northern Flickers. But they are not successful against every species; sometimes they lose their nesting hole to European Starlings, Western Bluebirds, and Tree Swallows.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Ash-throated Flycatchers are common throughout arid regions of the West. Populations increased by about 1% per year between 1966 and 2015, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 7.4 million, with 70% spending some part of the year in the U.S., and 79% in Mexico. The species rates an 8 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and is not on the 2016 State of North America's Birds' Watch List. The species' use of artificial structures may have offset the loss of natural nest sites by development, and may be responsible for an increase in numbers.

Credits

Range Map Help

Ash-throated Flycatcher Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Migration

Medium to long-distance migrant. Population is almost entirely migratory with the exception of populations in the Desert Southwest and Baja California, which are resident.

Backyard Tips

Ash-throated Flycatchers nest in many kinds of cavities and may even nest in your yard if you put up a nest box for them before breeding season. Head on over to NestWatch to download construction plans to build your very own Ash-throated Flycatcher nest box.

You can provide foraging habitat for Ash-throated Flycatchers and other birds by creating a bird-friendly yard. Learn how at Habitat Network.

Find This Bird

The trick to finding an Ash-throated Flycatcher is to listen for its distinctive ka-brick call in dry, open woodlands and scrub. Heading out early in the morning will increase your chances of finding one, as they, like other desert dwellers, tend to quiet down as soon as the sun starts heating things up. They often call from the tops of low trees or shrubs while looking around, tipping their heads side to side in curiosity. When you are out looking for them, don’t ignore sparsely vegetated areas as they can also turn up in deserts with little vegetation; all they need is a place to build their nest. The other trick to finding an Ash-throated Flycatcher especially in the Southwest is to make sure you know what to look for, because other species can look similar. Myiarchus flycatchers like the Ash-throated are larger and have a peaked head unlike the Empidonax flycatchers. They are also larger and slimmer than phoebes. Many of the similar looking Myiarchus flycatchers do not call during the nonbreeding season, which can make identification tricky, but Ash-throateds are the most common and widespread Myiarchus flycatcher in the region where they are found.

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