The Tyrant Flycatcher (Tyrannidae) is the largest family of birds in the world with nearly 400 distinct species. Of this number, Ecuador has 208 species in 78 genera. They are passerines, often referred to as perching birds and less correctly designated as songbirds. They are an extremely diverse avian family endemic to the Americas. Although some may resemble “Old World Flycatchers” (Tyranni), the Tyrants have a much more sophisticated vocal capability.
Flycatchers are abundant throughout the Americas, but virtually all of the species will migrate to the Neotropics during their respective winter seasons. They can be found across every terrestrial habitat in Ecuador, from the Páramo to the coastal and tropical regions. However, the greatest profusion can be located in the humid lowland forests. This is an avian family that can be spotted wherever the traveler roams.
Although most passerines tend to be lackluster and ordinary in appearance, there are a few exceptions. The Vermillion Flycatcher, with its ebony mask, back and tail contrasting with a scarlet crown and stomach, is one of the most spectacular birds in the neotropics. For the majority of this avian family, colors tend towards olives or browns.
The Flycatchers can vary greatly in size, from the diminutive Black-capped Pygmy Tyrant at 6.5-6.8 cm (2:5–2.7 in.) to the significantly larger Great Shrike-Tyrant at 29 cm (11.5 in.). There are certain species such as the Fork-tailed Flycatcher that are larger in total length but this is attributed to the extent of its tail. The Flycatcher’s heads are generally large, sporting stout bills that are somewhat flattened with a hook on the upper mandible. However, the insect eating species have a much larger bill than the gleaners that possess a smaller, more pointed beak. Flycatchers have rictal bristles (stiff feathers) around the base of their mouths. With a few exception, the sexes are fairly similar in form and color. Some species, in particular the Elaenias, are nearly impossible to distinguish by their appearance and can only be identified by voice.
Diet and Habitat
As the name implies, Flycatcher’s primary diet is insects. They can be seen perched on wires or branches, sallying quickly into the air to snatch their allusive prey. They will then return to their perch waiting patiently for the next unwary victim. There are a few exceptions, as some flycatchers will glean their nourishment from trees and bushes. Larger species have been known to feast upon mice or small lizards.
Flycatchers are reclusive and are seldom seen in flocks. They are known to be extremely territorial and become quite aggressive during matting season. Building their cup shaped nests in trees and bushes, the female will incubate the eggs while the male assists in providing nourishment.
When traveling throughout Ecuador and the neotropics the avid birder will encounter an abundance of Tyrant Flycatchers. It is advisable to become familiar with the various species so that there will be less confusion when trying to identify a particular bird. Locating and recognizing the various species is part of the enjoyment of birding in Ecuador.
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