Yellow-bellied Flycatcher

Distribution and Abundance

  • BBS Map
  • Breeding range across Canada, dipping into the United States in northeast Minnesota (Janssen 1987), Wisconsin (Robbins 1991) and Michigan (Walkinshaw 1967) and in the northern New England area. Isolated populations exist in Adirondack Mountains and Appalachian Mountains.
  • Historically, there have been slight range retractions from southern Wisconsin (Walkinshaw and Henry 1957, Robbins 1991) and in New York (Peterson 1988). Timbering, drainage of bogs, and agricultural development have surely eliminated this species from southern edges of range in Canada (Erskine 1992, Limoges 1996). Peat-mining, deforestation, and wetland destruction have eliminated potential breeding locations in Pennsylvania (Gross 1992).
  • Much published population data may understate abundance of this species as most breeding habitat not easily accessible. Often overlooked on BBS and breeding bird atlas efforts.
  • Relatively common and secure in Canadian portion or range, where distribution of this species is fairly continuous (Dunn et al. 1999). In northeast United States, distribution is more fragmented.
  • Winters from central Mexico to Central America. On wintering grounds, species declining in rain forests due to forest conversion (Rappole et al. 1992).


  • Found in typically cool, moist conifer or mixed forests, bogs, swamps, and muskegs; landscape often flat or poorly drained. Breeding habitat usually well stratified, with open canopy, saplings and seedlings, shrubs, and abundant thick moss cover. Shade provided by conifer trees and saplings, as well as layers of shrubs, ferns and herbs; undergrowth usually dense. Dominant trees in appropriate habitat usually include spruce or balsam fir, but may also include hemlock, pine or larch. 
  • In Wisconsin, 48% of 118 observations from 1995-2000 were in lowland conifer forest, predominately black spruce or tamarack; also found occasionally in upland mixed forest, lowland mixed forest and lowland conifer shrub (WSO 2002). In Michigan, of survey observations from 1983-1988, this species was found breeding in wet conifer forest dominated by spruce, tamarack and white cedar (Brewer et al. 1991).
  • In much of Canada, found in black-spruce forests with dominant understory including heath with shrubs and dense ground cover of low-growing herbs; also occupies dense, moist or wet boreal forest and peatlands dominated by either spruce or fir, but also containing American mountain ash, birch, aspen and other deciduous trees (Erskine 1977). In Ontario, talus slopes and rocky hillsides (cool, well-shaded microhabitats) are also occupied (Brunton and Crins 1975, Prescott 1987). In northern British Columbia, found in jack pines, aspens or willow swamps; occasionally found in lodgepole pine and Douglas fir (Campbell et al. 1997). In New York, found only in higher-elevation spruce forests of Catskills, Adirondacks and Tug Hill Plateau (Peterson 1988). In Pennsylvania, found in spruce swamps with semiopen mix of trees (red spruce, red maple, black tupelo, eastern hemlock, eastern white pine, yellow birch).
  • Nesting area heavily vegetated, with mosses, herbs, sedges, ferns, shrubs, and small trees. Nest site characteristically cool, moist, and shady. Nest built on or near ground, usually well hidden by moss or overhanging vegetation, under tree root, in log, among roots of fallen tree, or on embankment. Many nests well embedded in sphagnum moss, at base of fern clump, or under dead stems of previous year.
  • During migration in Kansas, found in deciduous forests and riparian habitats in undergrowth and low branches (Thompson and Ely 1992). In Kentucky, found in deep floodplain forests and upland groves and thickets (Mengel 1965). 
  • On wintering grounds, found in dense, low vegetation, often near streams, forest edge, or densely vegetated forest gaps in a variety of forest types, edges and even semiopen habitats; most common in dense rain forest, montane evergreen forest, and pine-oak forests (Monroe 1968, Stiles and Skutch 1989, Stotz et al. 1996).


  • Diet predominately insects and arthropods, occasionally fruit.
  • Males respond aggressively to other males entering territory and to potential predators. Males sing vigorously and chase intruders. Females chase conspecifics away from nest area.
  • In Pennsylvania, territories range from 0.75 - 1.0 ha.
  • Apparently monogamous. In Pennsylvania, unmated males maintain territories throughout breeding season, suggesting surplus of males at least at periphery of breeding range. Extra males observed trying to enter active territories, implying potential extra-pair copulations, but no direct evidence.
  • Migrants seen to arrive and travel gregariously in flocks during peak migration, but those individuals staying after flocks leave act more solitarily and aggressively.
  • No flocking in winter (Powell 1980). Wintering birds defend individual territories (Stiles and Skutch 1989). In southern Mexico, both sexes maintained individual territories about 0.3 ha in size (Rappole and Warner 1980). 

Parasitism and Predation

  • Brown-headed Cowbird only known brood parasite. Little overlap in geographic distribution between these species, however. 
  • In Wisconsin, of 477 confirmed Brown-headed Cowbird observations from 1995-2000, the Yellow-bellied Flycatcher was not indicated as a host species (WSO 2002); similarly in Michigan (Brewer et al. 1991). Three records of parasitism documented in Alberta (Friedmann 1963).
  • No predation events documented. Predators of adults likely to be similar to those of other small, woodland birds. Adults respond to potential predators around nest and will attack Blue Jays in nesting territory, even when jay is not in nest-searching mode. 

Conservation and Management

  • Association of this species with moss suggests that forest fragmentation that leads to desiccation of ground cover may be detrimental. Spruce die-off has reduced the amount of quality habitat in the Adirondacks (Peterson 1988) and probably in the Appalachians and New England. Acid rain may affect conifer-forest habitat. High-elevation forests and bogs in New York and New England suffer from ski resorts.
  • Populations in Veracruz, Mexico have decreased as primary rain forest converted to second growth and agricultural fields (Rappole et al. 1992). Considered sensitive to anthropogenic alteration of tropical, broad-leaved forests (Petit et al. 1993). Traditional, or shade-grown, coffee plantations in Guatamala supported higher densities of flycatchers than intensive, industrial-style, sun-grown coffee plantations (Greenberg et al. 1997).
  • BBS trend results from 1966-2000 (Sauer et al. 2001) in the Northern Spruce-Hardwoods region indicate the Yellow-bellied Flycatcher population may have increased slightly in this region  (1.2, p=0.32 Trend Graph S28); on the other hand, this species is decreasing in the Great Lakes Transition region (-2.3, p=0.29 Trend Graph S20). Survey-wide (US and Canada), this species has shown a significant increase in numbers (3.0, p=0.01 Trend Graph SUR).

This species account is based on: Gross, D.A. and P.E. Lowther. 2001. Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. In The Birds of North America, No. 566 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, DC. 


  • Brewer, R., G.A. McPeek and R.J. Adams, Jr. 1991. The atlas of breeding birds of Michigan. Michigan State University Press, East Lansing.
  • Brunton, D.F. and W.J. Crins. 1975. Status and habitat preference of the Yellow-bellied Flycatcher in Algonquin Park, Ontario. Ontario Field Biol. 29:25-28.
  • Campbell, R.W., N.K. Dawe, I. McTaggart-Cowan, J.M. Cooper, G.W. Kaiser, et al. 1997. The birds of British Columbia. Vol. 3: passerines - flycatchers through vireos. R. Br. Columbia Mus., Victoria.
  • Dunn, E.H., D.J.T. Hussell and D.A. Welsh. 1999. Priority setting tool applied to Canada's landbirds based on concerns and responsibilities for species. Conserv. Biol. 13:1404-1415.
  • Erskine, A.J. 1977. Birds in boreal Canada: communities, densities, and adaptions. Can. Wildl. Serv. Rep. Ser. no. 41.
  • Erskine, A.J. 1992. Atlas of breeding birds of the Maritime Provinces. Nimbus Publ. and Nova Scotia Mus., Halifax.
  • Friedmann, H. 1963. Host relations of the parasitic cowbirds. U.S. Natl. Mus. Bull. 233.
  • Greenberg, R., P. Bichier, A.C. Angon and R. Reitsma. 1997. Bird populations in shade and sun coffee plantations in central Guatemala. Conserv. Biol. 11:448-459.
  • Gross, D.A. 1992. Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. Pp. 198-199 in Atlas of breeding birds in Pennsylvania (D.W. Brauning, ed.). Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA.
  • Janssen, R.B. 1987. Birds in Minnesota. Univ. of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.
  • Limoges, B. 1996. Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. Pp. 670-671 in The breeding birds of Quebec: atlas of the breeding birds of southern Quebec (J. Gauthier and Y. Aubry, eds.). Can. Wildl. Serv., Environ. Montreal.
  • Mengel, R.M. 1965. The birds of Kentucky. Ornithol. Monogr. 3.
  • Monroe, B.L. Jr. 1968. A distributional survey of the birds of Honduras. Ornithol. Monogr. 7.
  • Peck, G. and R. James. 1987. Breeding birds of Ontario: nidiology and distribution. Vol. 2-Passerines. Misc. Publ. Roy. Ont. Mus., Toronto.
  • Peterson, J.M.C. 1988. Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. Pp. 248-249 in The atlas of breeding birds in New York State (R.F. Andrle and J.R. Carroll, eds.). Cornell Univ. Press, Ithaca, NY.
  • Powell, G.V.N. 1980. Migrant participation in neotropical mixed species flocks. Pp. 477-484 in Migrant birds in the Neotropics (A. Keast and E.S. Morton, eds.). Smithson. Inst. Press, Washington, D.C.
  • Prescott, D.R.C. 1987. Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. Pp. 254-255 in Atlas of the breeding birds of Ontario (M.D. Cadman, P.F.J. Eagles, and F.M. Helleiner, eds.). Univ. of Waterloo Press, Waterloo, ON.
  • Rappole, J.H., E.S. Morton and M.A. Ramos. 1992. Density, philopatry, and population estimates for songbird migrants wintering in Veracruz. Pp. 337-344 in Ecology and conservation of Neotropical migrant landbirds (J.M. Hagan III and D.W. Johnston, eds.). Smithsonian Inst. Press, Washington, D.C.
  • Rappole, J.H. and D.W. Warner. 1980. Ecological aspects of avian migrant behavior in Veracruz, Mexico. Pp. 353-393 in Migrant birds in the Neotropics (A. Keast and E.S. Morton, eds.). Smithson. Inst. Press, Washington, D.C.
  • Robbins, S.D., Jr. 1991. Wisconsin birdlife. Univ. of Wisconsin Press, Madison.
  • Sauer, J.R., J.E. Hines and J. Fallon. 2001. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966-2000. Version 2001.2, USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD.
  • Stiles, F.G. and A.F. Skutch. 1989. A guide to the birds of Costa Rica. Cornell Univ. Press, Ithaca, NY.
  • Stotz, D.F., J.W. Fitzpatrick, T.A. Parker III and D.K. Moskovits. 1996. Neotropical birds: ecology and conservation. Univ. of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL.
  • Thompson, M.C. and C. Ely. 1992. Birds in Kansas. Vol. 2. Univ. Kans. Mus. Nat. Hist. Public Ed. Ser. no. 12.
  • Walkinshaw, L.H. 1967. The Yellow-bellied Flycatcher in Michigan. Jack-pine Warbler 45:2-9.
  • Walkinshaw, L.H. and C.J. Henry. 1957. Yellow-bellied Flycatcher nesting in Michigan. Auk 74:293-304.
  • Wisconsin Society for Ornithology. 2002. Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas.
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Last Edit Date: September 26, 2006
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