BioKIDS home

Kids' Inquiry of Diverse Species

ash-throated flycatcher

Myiarchus cinerascens

What do they look like?

Ash-throated flycatchers are medium-sized members of their genus (Myiarchus). They have brown backs, grey wing bars, pale grey chests and throats, pale yellow bellies and black legs and feet. Their tail is long and rust colored, with dark tips. They have a short feather crest on their crown and a small, narrow bill. Male and female ash-throated flycatchers look the same, although males tend to be slightly larger. Juveniles are paler and have a redder tail, but are otherwise similar to adults. Ash-throated flycatchers are confused with other members of their genus (Myiarchus) although they are the palest members of the group. They are very similar in color and size to nutting flycatchers, and are also often mistaken for great-crested and brown-crested flycatchers. Nutting flycatchers are slightly smaller but look almost identical to ash-throated flycatchers and are usually told apart by their songs. Great-crested and brown-crested flycatchers are larger and have longer bills, and unlike ash-throated flycatchers, great-crested flycatchers have a yellow belly. (Bull and Farrand, 1994; Butler, et al., 2006; Cardiff and Dittmann, 2002; Crossley, 2011; Dunn and Alderfer, 2006; Robbins and Bruun, 2001; Sibley, 2003)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    21 to 38 g
    0.74 to 1.34 oz
  • Range length
    19 to 21 cm
    7.48 to 8.27 in
  • Range wingspan
    30 to 32 cm
    11.81 to 12.60 in

Where do they live?

Ash-throated flycatchers (Myiarchus cinerascens) breed in the western coastal United States, they are found as far east as mid-Texas and as far north as Washington, Idaho, Wyoming and western Colorado. Members of their genus (Myiarchus) are difficult to tell apart, but species found in the far northwestern United States are likely ash-throated flycatchers. In the winter, they travel to southern California, Arizona, Mexico and Honduras. These birds are known to wander quite far from their normal range; many have been seen as far as Florida and the East Coast. These birds can be found year-round in southern California, Baja California and parts of Mexico. (Baird, 1962; Bohlen, 1975; Butler, et al., 2006; Cardiff and Dittmann, 2002; Crossley, 2011; Murphy, 1982; Rappole and Blacklock, 1994; Robbins and Bruun, 2001; Simon, 1958)

What kind of habitat do they need?

Ash-throated flycatchers are usually found in dry habitats such as arid, open woodlands, dry woods, scrubby desert areas, thorn forests and oak savannas, all habitats that generally have mesquite, saguaro, pinyon pine, oak or juniper trees. Although they are found in a fairly wide range of habitats, they generally breed in dry lowland areas with nesting cavities available. Unlike great-crested flycatchers, ash-throated flycatchers forage closer to the ground in open habitats and often perch on twigs and low branches. These birds may be found at a variety of elevations, but are commonly seen from sea level to about 2,500 meters. (Bull and Farrand, 1994; Butler, et al., 2006; Cardiff and Dittmann, 2002; Crossley, 2011; Rappole and Blacklock, 1994; Robbins and Bruun, 2001)

  • Range elevation
    0 to 2,500 m
    0.00 to ft

How do they reproduce?

There is very little information available about the mating behavior of ash-throated flycatchers; however, these birds likely form monogamous breeding pairs and probably mate in flight. (Cardiff and Dittmann, 2002)

Ash-throated flycatchers breed from southern Mexico to Oregon. They are not picky about where they nest, but their nesting sites need to be large enough for their brood and be about 0.3 m above ground. Breeding pairs defend their nesting site and may need to compete with tree swallows, western bluebirds and mountain bluebirds for nesting sites. Ash-throated flycatchers nest in cavities such as nest boxes, abandoned woodpecker holes or cactus holes. Ash-throated flycatchers begin laying eggs in May, usually right after they finish building their nests. Their nests are built in about 1 to 7 days and are made of grasses and roots, and are lined with mammal hair. Their eggs are creamy white or pinkish, with long splotches; they look very similar to the eggs of other flycatcher species. Ash-throated flycatchers have an average of 4.3 eggs. The eggs are incubated for about 15 days and the young usually leave the nest about 17 days after hatching. (Bancroft, 1930; Bull and Farrand, 1994; Cardiff and Dittmann, 2002; Mock, et al., 1991; Simpkin and Gubanich, 1991)

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    The breeding interval has not been reported for this species.
  • Breeding season
    Ash-throated flycatchers likely breed in early spring.
  • Range eggs per season
    3 to 5
  • Average time to hatching
    15 days
  • Average fledging age
    17 days

Among ash-throated flycatchers, mostly females incubate the eggs, although males help by defending the nesting site and by bringing food to the females. Once the eggs hatch, the female may continue brooding the young for up to another week. Directly after hatching, the chicks are blind and naked, with pink skin and a yellow mouth. The chicks are fed by both the male and female, who also help keep the nest clean. (Cardiff and Dittmann, 2002)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • male parental care
  • female parental care
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female

How long do they live?

The lifespan of ash-throated flycatchers has not been reported. However, a bird banded in Orange County, California was recaptured after 9 years, although its age at the time of the initial banding was not known. Likewise, a banded bird was recaptured 5.5 years after being banded in central Sonora, Mexico. (Cardiff and Dittmann, 2002)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    9 (high) years

How do they behave?

Ash-throated flycatchers are active during the day and spend much of their time searching for food. They often catch insects while flying, although they can also catch insects on the ground or eat small fruits. These birds are low foragers and do not usually travel into the tree canopy. This species has been seen nesting in man-made objects such as PVC pipe and nest boxes. These birds migrate each year, generally moving in late summer and early fall. During the summer, they may become inactive during the hottest times of the day. (Bull and Farrand, 1994; Butler, et al., 2006; Cardiff and Dittmann, 2002; Crossley, 2011; Murphy, 1982; Sibley, 2003)

Home Range

Ash-throated flycatchers can maintain a breeding territory of 1 to 36 hectares. Territories that are only 1 to 5 ha are usually found in dry, lower elevation areas, whereas the larger territories are usually found in wetter areas with a higher elevation. (Cardiff and Dittmann, 2002)

How do they communicate with each other?

Ash-throated flycatchers vocalize all year. Although they look very similar to other flycatcher species, their calls usually sound different and can be used to tell them apart. These birds make many sounds including a “kabrick”, “prrrt”, “where” and a harsh “zheep” sound. When they hear the call of a predator, ash-throated flycatchers often begin vocalizing. When these birds are startled, they may snap their bills, especially when they are on their nest. (Bull and Farrand, 1994; Cardiff and Dittmann, 2002; Rappole and Blacklock, 1994)

What do they eat?

Ash-throated flycatchers mostly eat insects and some fruits such as berries. Their insect prey includes grasshoppers, wasps, bees, true bugs, treehoppers, stink bugs, cicadas, plant lice, leafhoppers, termites, assassin bugs, moths, caterpillars, flies, robber flies, beetles and dragonflies. About 13% of their diet is made up of plant material such as saguaro fruits, organ pipe cacti, cardon fruits, mistletoe berries, elderberries and nightshade. They catch insects while flying or sometimes perch and watch for insects on the ground. Sometimes, they also eat small mammals or reptiles, such as Colima giant whiptails and green anoles, although this is rare. After capturing insects, ash-throated flycatchers swallow them whole; however, before eating a vertebrate, they hit it against a tree or rock. (Cardiff and Dittmann, 2002; Gurrola-Hidalgo, 1993; Johnson, 1982; Sibley, 2003)

  • Animal Foods
  • reptiles
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • fruit

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Ash-throated flycatchers’ nests may be preyed on by scrub jays, pinyon jays and common ravens. These birds may also be preyed upon by rodent and snake species as well as red-tailed hawks, American kestrels, northern pygmy owls and eastern screech owls. (Cardiff and Dittmann, 2002; Purcell, et al., 1997)

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

Since ash-throated flycatchers are insectivorous, they can play a role in controlling insect populations. Their young and eggs also serve as food sources for other birds, snakes and some rodents. Ash-throated flycatchers are cavity nesters and the nest cavities they leave behind may be used by other flycatcher species as well as woodpeckers and bluebirds. These birds can have a variety of parasites such as nasal mites, nematodes, feather lice and feather mites. Because part of their diet includes fruits, ash-throated flycatchers may help spread the seeds of bilberry cacti and elephant trees. (Bates, 1992; Bull and Farrand, 1994; Cardiff and Dittmann, 2002; Murphy, 1982; Pence and Casto, 1976; Perez-Villafana and Valiente-Banuet, 2009)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds
Commensal or parasitic species (or larger taxonomic groups) that use this species as a host
  • nasal mites (Boydaia tyrannus)
  • nematodes (Phylum Nematoda)
  • feather lice (Phylum Arthropoda; Order Phthiraptera)
  • feather mites (Genus Proctophyllodes)

Do they cause problems?

There are no known negative impacts of ash-throated flycatchers on human populations.

How do they interact with us?

Due to their diet of insects and fruit, ash-throated flycatchers may help control insect pest populations and disperse some plant seeds. (Bates, 1992; Jedlicka, et al., 2011; Perez-Villafana and Valiente-Banuet, 2009)

Are they endangered?

Populations of ash-throated flycatchers are currently stable and are even seeing a slight increase in size. These birds have a large range with ample habitat areas, due to this; ash-throated flycatchers are currently considered a species of least concern by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. (BirdLife International, 2012; Sibley, 2003)

Contributors

Rebecca Ballance (author), Northern Michigan University, Leila Siciliano Martina (author, editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff, Alec Lindsay (editor), Northern Michigan University.

References

Baird, J. 1962. Ash-throated flycatcher in Rhode Island. The Auk, 79: 272. Accessed January 22, 2013 at http://www.jstor.org/stable/4082533.

Bancroft, G. 1930. The breeding birds of central lower California. The Condor, 32: 20-49. Accessed January 22, 2013 at http://www.jstor.org/stable/1363635.

Bates, J. 1992. Frugivory on Bursera microphylla (Burseraceae) by wintering gray vireos (Vireo vicinior, Vireonidae) in the coastal deserts of Sonora, Mexico. The Southwestern Naturalist, 37:3: 252-258.

BirdLife International, 2012. "Myiarchus cinerascens" (On-line). IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Accessed December 11, 2013 at http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/22700427/0.

Bohlen, H. 1975. Ash-throated flycatcher in Illinois: Summary of records east of the Mississippi River. The Auk, 92: 165-166. Accessed January 22, 2013 at http://www.jstor.org/stable/4084443.

Bull, J., J. Farrand. 1994. National Audubon Society Field Guide to Birds: Eastern Region. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Butler, L., S. Rohwer, M. Rogers. 2006. Prebasic molt and molt-related movements in ash-throated flycatchers. The Condor, 108: 647-660. Accessed January 22, 2013 at http://www.jstor.org/stable/4151085.

Cardiff, S., D. Dittmann. 2002. "Ash-throated flycatcher (Myiarchus cinerascens)" (On-line). The Birds of North America Online. Accessed December 11, 2013 at http://bna.birds.cornell.edu.proxy.lib.umich.edu/bna/species/664.

Crossley, R. 2011. The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Dunn, J., J. Alderfer. 2006. National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America. Washington, D.C: National Geographic Books.

Gurrola-Hidalgo, M. 1993. Ash-throated flycatcher eats a Cnemidophorus lizard. The Southwestern Naturalist, 38: 179. Accessed January 22, 2013 at http://www.jstor.org/stable/3672078.

Jedlicka, J., R. Greenberg, D. Letourneau. 2011. Avian conservation practices strengthen ecosystem services in California vineyards. PLoS One, 6:11: 1-8.

Johnson, T. 1982. Ash-throated flycatcher takes sagebrush lizard. The Southwestern Naturalist, 27: 222. Accessed January 22, 2013 at http://www.jstor.org/stable/3671154.

Lanyon, W. 1961. Specific limits and distribution of ash-throated and nutting flycatchers. The Condor, 63: 421–449.

Mock, P., M. Khubesrian, D. Larcheveque. 1991. Energetics of growth and maturation in sympatric passerines that fledge at different ages. The Auk, 108: 34-41. Accessed January 22, 2013 at http://www.jstor.org/stable/4088045.

Murphy, W. 1982. The ash-throated flycatcher in the east: An overview. American Birds, 36: 241-247.

Murray, B. 1971. A small great crested flycatcher: A problem in identification. Bird-Banding, 42: 119. Accessed January 22, 2013 at http://www.jstor.org/stable/4511743.

Pence, D., S. Casto. 1976. Nasal mites of the subfamily Speleognathinae (Ereynetidae) from birds in Texas. The Journal of Parasitology, 62:3: 466-469.

Perez-Villafana, M., A. Valiente-Banuet. 2009. Effectiveness of dispersal of an ornithocorous cactus Myrtillocactus geometrizans (Cactaceae) in a patchy environment. The Open Biology Journal, 2: 101-113.

Purcell, K., J. Verner, L. Oring. 1997. A comparison of the breeding ecology of birds nesting in boxes and tree cavities. The Auk, 114: 646–656. Accessed January 22, 2013 at http://www.jstor.org/stable/4089284.

Rappole, J., G. Blacklock. 1994. Birds of Texas: A Field Guide. College Station, TX: Texas A & M University Press.

Robbins, C., B. Bruun. 2001. Birds of North America: A Guide to Field Identification. New York, NY: St. Martin's Press.

Sibley, D. 2003. The Sibley Guide to Birds. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Simon, S. 1958. An ash-throated flycatcher (Myiarchus cinerascens cinerascens) in Maryland. The Auk, 75: 469. Accessed January 22, 2013 at http://www.jstor.org/stable/4082107.

Simpkin, J., A. Gubanich. 1991. Ash-throated flycatchers (Myiarchus cinerascens) raise mountain bluebird (Sialia currucoides) young. The Condor, 93: 461-462. Accessed January 22, 2013 at http://www.jstor.org/stable/1368969.

 
University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

BioKIDS home  |  Questions?  |  Animal Diversity Web  |  Cybertracker Tools

Ballance, R. and L. Siciliano Martina 2014. "Myiarchus cinerascens" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed November 23, 2017 at http://www.biokids.umich.edu/accounts/Myiarchus_cinerascens/

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
Copyright © 2002-2017, The Regents of the University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

University of Michigan