Myiarchus cinerascensash-throated flycatcher

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Geographic Range

Ash-throated flycatchers (Myiarchus cinerascens) breed in the western coastal United States, they are commonly found as far east as mid-Texas and as far north as Washington, Idaho, Wyoming and western Colorado. Members of genus Myiarchus are often difficult to identify, however, those found in the far northwestern United States are usually 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 and although they are a western species, they appear in many eastern region field guides. These birds also maintain a permanent year-round presence in southern California, Baja California and areas 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)

Habitat

Ash-throated flycatchers are found in a variety of mostly 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 available nesting cavities. 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 they 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

Physical Description

Ash-throated flycatchers are medium-sized members of genus Myiarchus, with an average body length of 19 to 21.5 cm. 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 crest on their crown and a small, narrow bill. Ash-throated flycatchers are sexually monomorphic, although males tend to be slightly larger, with an average weight of 28.7 g, as compared to the average female weight of 27.2 g. Juveniles are generally paler and have a redder tail, but are otherwise similar to adults. Ash-throated flycatchers are often confused with other Myiarchus species, 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 are otherwise difficult to distinguish from ash-throated flycatchers visually. Great-crested and brown-crested flycatchers are larger and have longer bills; in addition, great-crested flycatchers have a yellow belly that extends through their chest, as opposed to the grey chest and throat displayed in ash-throated flycatchers. (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

Reproduction

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)

The breeding range of ash-throated flycatchers spans from southern Mexico to Oregon. They are not extremely picky about where they nest, although their nesting sites must be large enough to accommodate their brood and be about 0.3 m above ground. Breeding pairs defend their nesting site aggressively, in some cases, they may need to compete for nesting areas with tree swallows, western bluebirds and mountain bluebirds and in rare instances, ash-throated flycatchers have even laid their eggs on top of mountain bluebird eggs and raised the bluebird chicks along with their own brood. Ash-throated flycatchers mainly nest in cavities, often in nest boxes, abandoned woodpecker holes or occasionally cactus holes. Ash-throated flycatchers begin laying eggs in May, usually directly after they finish constructing 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 ovate-shaped and creamy white or pinkish, with long splotches; they are very similar in color and size to the eggs of other flycatcher species. Clutches are composed of 4.3 eggs on average. The eggs are incubated for approximately 15 days and the young usually leave the nest about 17 days after hatching. Both sexes tend to the young. Occasionally, members of this species have two broods in a year. (Bancroft, 1930; Bull and Farrand, 1994; Cardiff and Dittmann, 2002; Mock, et al., 1991; Simpkin and Gubanich, 1991)

  • Breeding interval
    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, females perform most of the egg incubation, 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 altricial young for up to another week. Directly after hatching, the chicks are blind and naked, with pink skin and a yellow gape. The chicks are fed by both the male and female, who also help maintain a clean nest by disposing of waste material. (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

Lifespan/Longevity

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

Behavior

Ash-throated flycatchers are diurnal and spend much of their time searching for food. However, some reports suggest they may migrate at least partially at night. They often catch insects in flight; however, they have also been observed catching insects on the ground or feeding on small fruits. These birds are low foragers and generally do not travel into the tree canopy. This species seems to be very adaptable to human presence and has been seen nesting in man-made structures such as PVC pipe and nest boxes. These birds migrate annually, generally moving in late summer and early fall. During the summer season, these birds 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)

Communication and Perception

Ash-throated flycatchers vocalize year round. Their calls can help distinguish them from other similar Myiarchus species. These birds have varied calls, but the sounds they produce include a “kabrick”, “prrrt”, “where” and a harsh “zheep” sound. When introduced to a threatening stimulus, such as the call of a potential predator, ash-throated flycatchers often begin vocalizing. When these birds become alarmed, they may snap their bills, particularly when they are on their nest. (Bull and Farrand, 1994; Cardiff and Dittmann, 2002; Rappole and Blacklock, 1994)

Food Habits

Ash-throated flycatchers eat mainly 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. Plant matter accounts for about 13% of their diet and includes saguaro fruits, organ pipe cacti, cardon fruits, mistletoe berries, elderberries and nightshade. They catch insects while flying or sometimes perch and ambush insects on the ground. Occasionally, they also eat small mammals or reptiles, such as Colima giant whiptails and green anoles, although this is rare. After capturing invertebrate prey, ash-throated flycatchers swallow them whole; however, they tenderize vertebrate prey by hitting it against a tree or rock before consumption. (Cardiff and Dittmann, 2002; Gurrola-Hidalgo, 1993; Johnson, 1982; Sibley, 2003)

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

Predation

Predation by other birds such as scrub jays, pinyon jays and common ravens are the most common causes of nest failure among ash-throated flycatchers. These birds may also be preyed upon by rodent and snake species as well as red-tailed hawks and American kestrels. Upon hearing a recording of northern pygmy owls and eastern screech owls, ash-throated flycatchers became restless, which may suggest these species are also potential predators. (Cardiff and Dittmann, 2002; Purcell, et al., 1997)

Ecosystem Roles

Since ash-throated flycatchers are insectivorous, they can play a role in controlling insect populations. Their young and eggs can serve as food sources for other birds, snakes and some rodents. Ash-throated flycatchers are cavity nesters and their abandoned cavities are often used by other flycatcher species as well as woodpeckers and bluebirds. Although brown-headed cowbirds are known brood parasites to many flycatcher species, this parasitism has not been observed in ash-throated flycatchers. These birds may be plagued by a variety of parasites such as nasal mites, nematodes, feather lice and feather mites. Due to their partially frugivorous diet, ash-throated flycatchers may be minimally effective seed dispersers for 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/Parasitic Species
  • nasal mites (Boydaia tyrannus)
  • nematodes (Phylum Nematoda)
  • feather lice (Phylum Arthropoda; Order Phthiraptera)
  • feather mites (Genus Proctophyllodes)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Ash-throated flycatchers are insectivorous and may help control insect pest populations. They may also help disperse the seeds of some plants due to their partially frugivorous diet. (Bates, 1992; Jedlicka, et al., 2011; Perez-Villafana and Valiente-Banuet, 2009)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

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

Conservation Status

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.

Glossary

Nearctic

living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

Neotropical

living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

carnivore

an animal that mainly eats meat

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

diurnal
  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females

insectivore

An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males

migratory

makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds

monogamous

Having one mate at a time.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

oviparous

reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

tropical

the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

visual

uses sight to communicate

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.