Tyrant flycatcher

The tyrant flycatchers (Tyrannidae) are a family of passerine birds which occur throughout North and South America. They are considered the largest family of birds, with more than 400 species. They are the most diverse avian family in every country in the Americas, except for the United States and Canada. As could be expected from a family this large, the members vary greatly in shape, patterns, size and colors. Some tyrant flycatchers superficially resemble the Old World flycatchers which they are named after but are not related to. They are members of suborder Tyranni (suboscines), which do not have the sophisticated vocal capabilities of most other songbirds.[1]

Most, but not all, species are rather plain, with various hues of brown, gray and white commonplace. Obvious exceptions include the bright red vermilion flycatcher, blue, black, white and yellow many-colored rush-tyrant and some species of tody-flycatchers or tyrants, which are often yellow, black, white and/or rufous, from the Todirostrum, Hemitriccus and Poecilotriccus genera. Several species have bright yellow underparts, from the ornate flycatcher to the great kiskadee. Some species have erectile crests. Several of the large genera (i.e. Elaenia, Myiarchus or Empidonax) are quite difficult to tell apart in the field due to similar plumage and some are best distinguished by their voices. Behaviorally they can vary from species such as spadebills which are tiny, shy and live in dense forest interiors to kingbirds, which are relatively large, bold, inquisitive and often inhabit open areas near human habitations. As the name implies, a great majority of tyrant flycatchers are entirely insectivorous (though not necessarily specialized in flies). Tyrant flycatchers are largely opportunistic feeders and often catch any flying or arboreal insect they encounter. However, food can vary greatly and some (like the large great kiskadee) will eat fruit or small vertebrates (e.g. small frogs). In North America, most species are associated with a "sallying" feeding style, where they fly up to catch an insect directly from their perch and then immediately return to the same perch. Most tropical species however do not feed in this fashion and several types prefer to glean insects from leaves and bark. Tropical species are sometimes found in mixed-species foraging flocks, where various types of passerines and other smallish birds are found feeding in proximity.

The smallest family members are the closely related short-tailed pygmy tyrant and black-capped pygmy tyrant from the genus Myiornis (the first species usually being considered marginally smaller on average). These species reach a total length of 6.5–7 cm (2.6–2.8 in) and a weight of 4–5 grams. By length, they are the smallest passerines on earth, although some species of Old World warblers apparently rival them in their minuscule mean body masses if not in total length.[2] The minuscule size and very short tail of the Myiornis pygmy tyrants often lend them a resemblance to a tiny ball or insect. The largest tyrant flycatcher is the great shrike-tyrant at 29 cm (11 in) and 99.2 grams (0.219 pounds). A few species such as the streamer-tailed tyrant, scissor-tailed flycatcher and fork-tailed flycatcher have a larger total length (up to 41 cm (16 in)), but this is mainly due to their extremely long tails; the fork-tailed flycatcher has relatively the longest tail feathers of any known bird.[3]

A number of species previously included in this family are now placed in the family Tityridae (see Systematics). Sibley and Alquist in their 1990 bird taxonomy had the genera Mionectes, Leptopogon, Pseudotriccus, Poecilotriccus, Taenotriccus, Hemitriccus, Todirostrum and Corythopis as a separate family Pipromorphidae,[4] but although it is still thought that these genera are basal to most of the family, they are not each other's closest relatives.[4]

Tyrant flycatchers
Empidonax flavescens-cropped version
Yellowish flycatcher,
Empidonax flavescens
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Parvorder: Tyrannida
Family: Tyrannidae
Vigors, 1825

Some 100, see text

Distribution of tyrant flycatchers

Habitat and distribution

Species richness of Tyrannidae, when compared to habitat, is highly variable, although most every land habitat in the Americas has at least some of these birds. The habitats of tropical lowland evergreen forest and montane evergreen forest have the highest single site species diversity while many habitats including rivers, palm forest, white sand forest, tropical deciduous forest edge, southern temperate forest, southern temperate forest edge, semi-humid/humid montane scrub, and northern temperate grassland have the lowest single species diversity. The variation between the highest and the lowest is extreme; ninety species can be found in the tropical lowland evergreen forests while the number of species that can be found in the habitats listed above typically are in the single digits. This may be due in part to the fewer niches found in certain areas and therefore fewer places for the species to occupy.

Tyrannidae specialization among habitat is very strong in tropical lowland evergreen forests and montane evergreen forests. These habitat types therefore display the greatest specialization. The counts differ by three species (tropical lowland evergreen forests have 49 endemic species and montane evergreen forests have 46 endemic species). It can be assumed that they both have similar levels of specialization.

Regionally, the Atlantic Forest has the highest species richness with the Chocó following closely behind.

Status and conservation

The northern beardless tyrannulet (Camptostoma imberbe) is protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.[5] This species is common south of the US border. The situation for a number of other species from South and Central America is far more problematic. In 2007, BirdLife International (and consequently IUCN) considered two species, the Minas Gerais tyrannulet and Kaempfer's tody-tyrant critically endangered. Both are endemic to Brazil. Additionally, seven species were considered endangered and eighteen species vulnerable.[6]


The family comprises 437 species divided into 104 genera.[7] A full list, sortable by common and binomial names, is at list of tyrant flycatcher species. Species in the genera Tityra, Pachyramphus, Laniocera and Xenopsaris were formerly placed in this family, but evidence suggested they belong in their own family, the Tityridae,[8] where they are now placed by SACC.

Contopus virensPCCA20050724-9873B
Eastern wood pewee, Contopus virens
Myiornis ecaudatus - Short -tailed pigmy tyrant
The short-tailed pygmy tyrant (Myiornis ecaudatus) is the smallest species of passerine.
Great Shrike-Tyrant
The great shrike-tyrant (Agriornis lividus) is the largest species of tyrant flycatcher.
Great kiskadee, Pitangus sulphuratus
Tesourinha REFON
Fork-tailed flycatcher, Tyrannus savana
Todirostrum cinereum-2
Common tody-flycatcher, Todirostrum cinereum
Anairetes agilis
Agile tit-tyrant, Anairetes agilis

See also


  1. ^ del Hoyo, J. Elliott, A. & Christie, D. (editors). (2004) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 9: Cotingas to Pipits and Wagtails. Lynx Edicions. ISBN 84-87334-69-5
  2. ^ CRC Handbook of Avian Body Masses, 2nd Edition by John B. Dunning Jr. (Editor). CRC Press (2008), ISBN 978-1-4200-6444-5.
  3. ^ Bird, David Mitchell (2004). The Bird Almanac: A Guide to Essential Facts and Figures of the World's Birds. Buffalo, NY, USA: Firefly Books. p. 70. ISBN 978-1-55297-925-9.
  4. ^ a b Rheindt, F.E.; Norman, J.A.; Christidis, L. (2008). "Phylogenetic relationships of tyrant-flycatchers (Aves: Tyrannidae), with an emphasis on the elaeniine assemblage" (PDF). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 46 (1): 88–101. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2007.09.011.
  5. ^ "List of Migratory Bird Species Protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act as of December 2, 2013" U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  6. ^ BirdLife International (2007). Species factsheets. Accessed 12 December 2007 available online
  7. ^ Gill, Frank; Donsker, David, eds. (2019). "Tyrant flycatchers". World Bird List Version 9.2. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 26 June 2019.
  8. ^ Adopt the Family Tityridae – South American Classification Committee (2007)

Further reading

  • Tello, J.G.; Moyle, R.G.; Marchese, D.J.; Cracraft, J. (2009). "Phylogeny and phylogenetic classification of the tyrant flycatchers, cotingas, manakins, and their allies (Aves: Tyrannides)". Cladistics. 25: 429–467. doi:10.1111/j.1096-0031.2009.00254.x.

External links

American dusky flycatcher

The American dusky flycatcher, or simply dusky flycatcher, (Empidonax oberholseri) is a small, insectivorous passerine of the tyrant flycatcher family.

The dusky flycatcher is one of many species in the genus Empidonax. These species are very similar in appearance and behavior, and they are notoriously difficult to differentiate. The best characteristics for distinguishing these species are voice, breeding habitat, and range.

Boat-billed flycatcher

The boat-billed flycatcher (Megarynchus pitangua) is a passerine bird. It is a large tyrant flycatcher, the only member of the monotypic genus Megarynchus.

It breeds in open woodland with some tall trees from Mexico south to Bolivia and Argentina, and through to Trinidad.

The nest, built by the female, is an open saucer of sticks. The typical clutch is two or three whitish eggs heavily blotched with brown. These are incubated mostly by the female for 17–18 days with a further 24 days to fledging.

Caribbean elaenia

The Caribbean elaenia (Elaenia martinica) is a species of bird in the family Tyrannidae found in the West Indies and parts of Central America. Its natural habitats are tropical and subtropical dry broadleaf forest, subtropical or tropical moist lowland forest, and heavily degraded former forest.

Couch's kingbird

Couch's kingbird (Tyrannus couchii) is a passerine tyrant flycatcher of the kingbird genus. It is found from southern Texas along the Gulf Coast to the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, Belize and northern Guatemala. It is also found in the lower stretches of the Rio Grande river valley, locally named Rio Grande Valley.The name of this bird commemorates the soldier and naturalist Darius N. Couch.

Crested doradito

The crested doradito (Pseudocolopteryx sclateri) is a species of bird in the family Tyrannidae.

It is found in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Guyana, Paraguay, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

Its natural habitat is swamps.

Crowned chat-tyrant

The crowned chat-tyrant (Silvicultrix frontalis) is a species of bird in the tyrant flycatcher family.

Dusky-capped flycatcher

The dusky-capped flycatcher (Myiarchus tuberculifer) is a passerine bird in the tyrant flycatcher family. It breeds in forest and other woodland from southern Arizona, as well as the Chisos Mountains, Texas, south to northern Argentina and on Trinidad. It is resident in most of its range, but American breeders retreat to Mexico in winter.

Adult dusky-capped flycatchers are 18 cm (7.1 in) long and weigh 19.4 g (0.68 oz). The upperparts are brown, with a blackish head and short crest. The breast is grey and the belly is bright yellow. The brown tail feathers and wings have paler outer webs. The sexes are similar, but young birds have rufous edgings to the wings and tail.

The dusky-capped flycatcher is best separated from other confusingly similar Myiarchus species by its smaller size, blackish head, and its call, a sorrowful, descending, whistled peeur or wheeeeeu.

This species is insectivorous and catches its prey by flycatching amongst the middle branches of trees. Fruits such as from gumbo-limbo (Bursera simaruba), and less frequently from Cymbopetalum mayanum (Annonaceae) are sometimes also eaten, particularly in winter. The nest is built in a tree cavity, and the normal clutch is three brown-marked buff eggs. The young fledge 13 days after hatching.

Golden-crowned flycatcher

The golden-crowned flycatcher (Myiodynastes chrysocephalus) is a species of bird in the family Tyrannidae.

It is found in Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist montane forests and heavily degraded former forest.

Golden-crowned spadebill

The golden-crowned spadebill (Platyrinchus coronatus) is a species of bird in the family Tyrannidae.

It is found in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela.

Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests.

Golden-faced tyrannulet

The golden-faced tyrannulet (Zimmerius chrysops) is a species of bird belonging to the family Tyrannidae.

It is found in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela.

Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist montane forests and heavily degraded former forest. Until recently, it included the Choco tyrannulet, Coopmans's tyrannulet, and Loja tyrannulet as subspecies.

Greenish elaenia

The greenish elaenia (Myiopagis viridicata) is a species of bird in the family Tyrannidae, the tyrant flycatchers.

It is found in Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, the United States, and Venezuela.

Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical dry forests, subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests, and heavily degraded former forest.

Long-tailed tyrant

The long-tailed tyrant (Colonia colonus) is a species of bird in the family Tyrannidae, the only member of genus Colonia.

It is found in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela.

Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist lowland forest, subtropical or tropical moist montane forest, and heavily degraded former forest.

Mouse-colored tyrannulet

The mouse-colored tyrannulet (Phaeomyias murina) is a species of bird in the tyrant flycatcher family Tyrannidae. It occurs in a wide range of scrubby and wooded habitats in tropical and subtropical South America, being absent from the southernmost part of the continent, the high Andes and dense rainforest. It also occurs in Panama and Costa Rica. It is generally common, but its small size and dull plumage results in it often being overlooked – or at least not identified, as it resembles several other tyrant flycatchers.

Four subspecies are recognised:

P. m. eremonoma Wetmore, 1953 – Panama

P. m. incomta (Cabanis & Heine, 1860) – Colombia, northeast Ecuador, Venezuela and Trinidad

P. m. wagae (Taczanowski, 1884) – The Guianas, Amazonian Brazil, east Peru and northwest Bolivia

P. m. murina (Spix, 1825) – south Brazil, south Bolivia, Paraguay and northwest ArgentinaThe mouse-colored tyrannulet was formerly considered conspecific with the Tumbesian tyrannulet (Phaeomyias tumbezana) that occurs west of the Andes in southwest Ecuador and northwest Peru. The two species are visually very similar, but vocally distinct.


Ochthoeca is a genus of South American birds in the tyrant flycatcher family Tyrannidae.

The genus contains eight species:

Slaty-backed chat-tyrant, Ochthoeca cinnamomeiventris

Blackish chat-tyrant, Ochthoeca nigrita

Maroon-belted chat-tyrant, Ochthoeca thoracica

Rufous-breasted chat-tyrant, Ochthoeca rufipectoralis

Brown-backed chat-tyrant, Ochthoeca fumicolor

D'Orbigny's chat-tyrant, Ochthoeca oenanthoides

White-browed chat-tyrant, Ochthoeca leucophrys

Piura chat-tyrant, Ochthoeca piuraeThe genus Ochthoeca formerly included some species that are now placed in the genus Silvicultrix.

Pacific-slope flycatcher

The Pacific-slope flycatcher (Empidonax difficilis) is a small insectivorous bird of the family Tyrannidae. It is native to coastal regions of western North America, including the Pacific Ocean and the southern Gulf of California, as far north as British Columbia and southern Alaska, but is replaced in the inland regions by the Cordilleran flycatcher. These two species were classified as a single species, commonly called the western flycatcher, by the American Ornithologists’ Union until 1989. In winter, both species migrate south to Mexico, where they are virtually indistinguishable from one another.

Sibilant sirystes

The sibilant sirystes (Sirystes sibilator) is a species of bird in the family Tyrannidae. It was formerly considered conspecific with the western sirystes, the white-rumped sirystes, and Todd's sirystes.


Sirystes is a genus of birds in the tyrant flycatcher family, Tyrannidae. They used to be all considered conspecific. Vocal differences primarily separated the superspecies into four distinct taxa.

The genus contains four species:

Sibilant sirystes, Sirystes sibilator

Western sirystes, Sirystes albogriseus

White-rumped sirystes, Sirystes albocinereus

Todd's sirystes, Sirystes subcanescens

Yellow-olive flatbill

The yellow-olive flatbill or yellow-olive flycatcher (Tolmomyias sulphurescens) is a species of bird in the family Tyrannidae. It is found in tropical and subtopical forest and woodland in Central and South America, but over its range there are significant variations in plumage, iris-colour and voice, leading to speculations that more than one species is involved. Its plumage is overall greenish-yellow, the lores are whitish, the crown is often greyish and some subspecies have a dusky patch on the auriculars. The flat bill is black above and pale pinkish or greyish below; similar to the yellow-margined flatbill, but unlike the grey-crowned flatbill.

Yellow tyrannulet

The yellow tyrannulet (Capsiempis flaveola) is a very small passerine bird in the tyrant flycatcher family. It breeds from Nicaragua south to northeastern Argentina and southeastern Brazil. It is the only member of the genus Capsiempis, but its taxonomy is uncertain, and it has been allocated to at least three other genera in the past.

This species is found in thickets, forest and streamside edges, dense second growth, and bushy pastures or clearings. The cup nest is made of plant fibre and grass blades, decorated outside with moss. It is placed 2–7 m high in a tree, shrub, or maize plant. The typical clutch is two white eggs, usually umarked or with very light rufous speckles.


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