Thursday, June 14, 2018

Species Profile - Yellow-bellied Flycatcher

In keeping with the theme of highlighting Newfoundland's breeding Boreal species, today I've decided to take a closer look at Yellow-bellied Flycatcher.

Arriving in the last couple days of May or early June, this diminutive flycatchers song is part of the sound track of the Boreal Forest, along with Fox Sparrow, Blackpoll Warbler and Northern Waterthrush- just to name a few.

It's song is an almost comical 'chebek', or sometimes shortened to just 'bek'. It also uses a whistled 'chu-eee', which is oddly similar to the call note of Semipalmated Plover! Aside from those two common vocalizations it also has a lesser used third vocalization, which is a burry, 'churrr' (listen closely at 1:21)note. It often uses this call when moving from branch to branch or during inter-specific interactions.
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher in Newfoundland
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher is by far the commonest flycatcher in Newfoundland and is often the only expected Empidonax flycatcher in the Eastern half of the province. In some central locations and South Western Newfoundland, the Empid situation gets a little more complicated, since Alder Flycatcher and Least Flycatcher are also possible (the latter being somewhat rare). However, with some experience, separating Yellow-bellied from these two species is relatively straight forward.

 Yellow-bellied is just that, yellow! In breeding plumage at least, it is significantly more yellow below than either Alder or Least, which can be quite pale. It's is also a more even green above, in relation to our other Empids- both Least and Alder can have some grayish areas on the upper parts, with least sometimes being quite grayish on the back of the head. It's most distinctive facial feature is it's bold yellow-buff eye ring, which is often peaked at the rear of the eye. Least Flycatchers eye ring can be similar, but never as yellow. Well, this wasn't meant to be an ID Empid ID piece, I'll save that for another post!
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, yellow bellow and eye ring
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (note the yellow belly!)

This has been a very trying breeding season for Yellow-bellied's this year with June temperature being, well below normal, with some areas experiencing heavy frost and even significant snowfall and freezing night time temperatures. Since Yellow-bellied Flycatchers feed almost exclusively on flying insects, they have been seen by meany people desperately searching for food on lawns and in other areas one would not usually see them.
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher in Newfoundland
Note the thick buffy eye-ring, peaked at the rear

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher in Newfoundland
Note the strongly bi-colored bill that I forget to mention in the body of the post!

Now into the middle of June, the Yellow Bellied's have been back for only a couple of weeks and they are already about 25% of the way through their stay in Newfoundland. It's a race against time for late migrants like the Yellow bellies. They migrate all the way from Central America to the northern Boreal forests, for at the most, a little over two months, only to turn around and endure a massive journey back to their wintering grounds. Lets hope our weather improves soon so these birds can get down to doing what they came here to do.

You can find a more thorough examination of the ID of Empidonax flycatchers in the article, "The Identification of Newfoundland Empids. Which gives a number of great tips for identifying Empids not only in Newfoundland, but anywhere!

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