Ash-throated FlycatcherMyiarchus cinerascens

adult
Greg Lasley/VIREO
adult
Rolf Nussbaumer/VIREO
adult
Greg Lasley/VIREO

Description

This pale flycatcher is common and widespread in arid country of the west. Like its close relatives, it nests in holes in trees. However, because it lives in dry terrain where trees are often small or scarce, it will resort to other sites; nests have been found in such odd places as exhaust pipes, hollow fence posts, mailboxes, and even in trousers hanging on a clothesline.

Habitat

Semi-arid country, deserts, brush, mesquites, pinyon-juniper, dry open woods. Found in a wide variety of lowland habitats, usually open and rather arid, avoiding mountains and forests. Often most common in mesquite groves, pinyon-juniper hillsides, and other open woods, it may live in wide-open grassland if nest sites are available. In winter, found along dense desert washes.

Feeding Diet

Mostly insects. Feeds on insects, including caterpillars, beetles, grasshoppers, wasps, true bugs, and flies, also some as large as cicadas. Eats spiders, and rarely small lizards. Also feeds on fruits and berries, including those of desert mistletoe and saguaro cactus. Fruits of elephant-tree may be important in winter diet.

Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly by flying out from a perch to hover and pick insects from foliage. Sometimes takes insects from trunks or branches, or from the ground; seldom catches them in mid-air. Usually feeds low. Will perch in shrubs or cactus to feed on fruits.

Nesting

Male's song, given in spring to defend nesting territory, is a simple repetition of the usual call notes. Nest site is usually in hole in tree or post, either natural cavity or old woodpecker hole, 2-25' above the ground. In its range, often uses old holes made by Ladder-backed Woodpecker. Also will use holes in giant cactus or in agave stalks, and such sites as birdhouses, metal drain pipes, old Cactus Wren nests, and others. Nest (built by both sexes) is a mass of weeds, grass, twigs, rootlets, lined with softer material such as hair and feathers. Eggs: 4-5, sometimes 3-7. Creamy white, blotched with brown and lavender. Incubation is by female only, about 15 days. Young: Both parents bring food for nestlings. Age of young at first flight about 14-16 days; parents feed young for at least several days after they fledge. Often raises 2 broods per year.

Eggs

4-5, sometimes 3-7. Creamy white, blotched with brown and lavender. Incubation is by female only, about 15 days. Young: Both parents bring food for nestlings. Age of young at first flight about 14-16 days; parents feed young for at least several days after they fledge. Often raises 2 broods per year.

Young

Both parents bring food for nestlings. Age of young at first flight about 14-16 days; parents feed young for at least several days after they fledge. Often raises 2 broods per year.

Conservation

Numbers in the United States are apparently stable or possibly increasing. Will use nest boxes put out for bluebirds, and may be benefiting from "bluebird trails" in the west.

Range

Withdraws from most of United States range in fall, but some spend the winter in southwestern Arizona and southern California. A few wander east as far as Atlantic Coast almost every year, mostly in late fall.

Listen

calls #1
calls #4
calls #3
dawn song

Similar Species

adult

Greater Pewee

In mountain forests of Arizona (and locally in western New Mexico), this chunky flycatcher is fairly common in summer. It is often seen perched on a dead twig high in a pine, watching for flying insects. In color and markings, the Greater Pewee is as plain as a bird can be; but it has a beautifully clear, whistled song, ho-say, ma-re-ah, giving rise to its Mexican nickname of "Jose Maria."

adult

Great Crested Flycatcher

In dense leafy forests of the east, the Great Crested Flycatcher lives within the canopy of tall trees in summer. It is more easily heard than seen, its rolling calls echoing through the woods. The birder who pursues and sees the bird is likely to be impressed; this species is much more colorful than most flycatchers in the east. It nests in holes in trees, and it has the odd habit of adding pieces of shed snakeskin to its nest.

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Brown-crested Flycatcher

Of the three similar crested flycatchers in the west, this is the largest. It is a common summer resident in the southwest, mainly in southern Texas and Arizona. Brown-crested Flycatchers are conspicuous and aggressive in the nesting season; they arrive late in spring, after most other hole-nesting birds, and may have to compete for nest sites. Typically they feed on large insects like beetles or cicadas, but they also have been seen catching hummingbirds on occasion.

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Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher

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adult

Couch's Kingbird

This Texas specialty is almost identical to the Tropical Kingbird, and was considered a race of that species until the 1980s. However, their voices are quite different, and they live side by side in eastern Mexico without interbreeding. Couch's Kingbirds are common around woodland edges and near ponds and rivers in southern Texas during the summer, and a few remain all winter there.

adult

Tropical Kingbird

One of the most widespread birds of the American tropics, this species reaches the United States mainly in southern Arizona. There it is the quietest and most inconspicuous of the four kingbird species present. Beginning in the early 1990s a few Tropicals were also found in southern Texas, where they overlap with their close relative, Couch's Kingbird. Unlike most kingbirds, Tropicals are seldom found in flocks.

adult

Cassin's Kingbird

As suggested by its scientific name vociferans, Cassin's is our noisiest kingbird (except for the very localized Thick-billed). Possibly it has more need for vocal communication because it lives in denser habitat than most. Males have a strident "dawn song," a rising berg-berg-berg-BERG, often heard at first light but rarely later in the day, sometimes confused with song of Buff-collared Nightjar. Where present in numbers (as on wintering grounds in Mexico), flocks may gather to roost in large concentrations.

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