At a Glance
While some of its relatives are often found in sunny open places, the Yellow-bellied Flycatcher is a bird of deep shade. It spends the summer in spruce bogs and other damp northern forests, where it places its nest on the ground in sphagnum moss or among tree roots. Although the Yellow-bellied is not as hard to identify in spring as some small flycatchers, birders may miss it because it moves north late, after most of the spring migrants have passed.
All bird guide text and rangemaps adapted from Lives of North American Birds by Kenn Kaufman© 1996, used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Perching Birds, Tyrant Flycatchers
Forests and Woodlands, Freshwater Wetlands, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets
Eastern Canada, Florida, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Plains, Southeast, Texas, Western Canada
Range & Identification
Migration & Range Maps
Spring migration is notably late, with most northbound migrants passing through in mid to late May. Almost all migration is through the east, even for birds nesting in far western Canada.
5 1/2" (14 cm). Very small. All Empidonax flycatchers show some yellow on belly; this one also has a yellow wash on the throat. Back tinged green; wing-bars contrasty. In west, compare to Pacific-slope and Cordilleran Flycatchers.
About the size of a Robin, About the size of a Sparrow
Black, Brown, Gray, Green, Yellow
Songs and Calls
On breeding grounds, a flat chilk or killic; also a rising 2-note whistle, per-wee?
Buzz, Chirp/Chip, Hi, Whistle
Woods; in summer, boreal forests, muskegs, bogs. Breeds in wet northern forest, especially in spruce bogs with ground cover of sphagnum moss, also in tamarack-white cedar swamps, and in willow-alder thickets along streams in dense coniferous forest. In winter, lives in undergrowth of tropical forest.
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3-4, sometimes 5. White, lightly spotted with brown. Incubation is by female only, 12-14 days.
Both parents bring food for nestlings. Age of young at first flight about 13-14 days. Probably only 1 brood per year.
Forages by watching from a perch, usually at low to mid levels in the forest, and then flying out to catch insects in the air. Also takes some food (such as caterpillars and spiders) from foliage or twigs while hovering. May sometimes take some insects while perched.
Mostly insects. Feeds on a variety of small insects, both flying types and those taken from foliage, including many ants and small wasps, also flies, beetles, true bugs, caterpillars, moths, and others. Also eats many spiders, and eats small numbers of berries and sometimes seeds.
Male defends nesting territory by singing, often from an exposed perch. Adults tend to be quiet and inconspicuous around the nest. Nest site is usually in dense sphagnum moss on or just above the ground in boggy places; sometimes placed among the upturned roots of a fallen tree, or in other sheltered low spot. Generally well hidden within mosses with only a small entrance showing, and very difficult to find. Nest is bulky cup of mosses, mixed with weeds and rootlets, lined with grass, sedges, and many fine rootlets.
Could be vulnerable to loss of habitat, especially on wintering grounds. Currently numbers appear to be stable.
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.
Climate Threats Facing the Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.