Ash-throated Flycatchers abound in the Desert West
I have to admit, I didn’t know much about Ash-throated Flycatchers. They’ve just never been much on my radar screen. I pay attention more to birds that come to bird feeders and they do not. I was prompted to do some research when local backyard birder, Jimmy Kiy, emailed me the photo above in mid-June. I think you can see why it caught my eye.
Like other Flycatchers, the Ash-throated eats insects, so many in fact that that it doesn’t need to drink water, getting all it needs from bugs. Although they do not need to drink, Jimmy Kiy has photographed Ash-throated Flycatchers drinking at his birdbath.
You’ll see these birds mostly at eye-level perched on a limb or in a shrub. Watch as they fly out to snag an insect or two in flight, returning to the perch to eat. They eat insects including spiders, flies, wasps, bees, stink bugs and moths. Look for them mostly in the morning. Like other desert dwellers, they seek shade during the hottest part of the day. This long slender flycatcher is grayish brown with a pale yellow belly, white breast and reddish-brown streaks under its tail and along wing edges. They are about eight inches long, larger than a bluebird but smaller than a robin. You’ll see Ash-throated Flycatchers mostly in open desert areas with pinyon and juniper. They don’t like dense forests. We see them only during nesting season. They winter in southeastern Arizona and parts of Mexico and Central America.
Ash-throated Flycatchers are secondary cavity nesters, meaning that they don’t create their own cavity but use whatever cavity they can find; old woodpecker holes, bluebird boxes, mailboxes, holes in fence posts or even pipes. They can be pretty creative in choosing nest sites. They use twigs, grass, bark and other such construction materials to build their nests and then line them with feathers and mammal hair, preferring the fur from rabbits. Standing dead trees often have old cavities so are a common nesting location for these flycatchers. One of many bird-friendly reasons to leave old, dead trees standing. Ash-throated Flycatchers have 1-2 broods in a season.
When alert, their crest feathers stand up in a notable, Kramer-like (Seinfeld reference), way. These bushy looking heads are not unlike some other flycatchers. Most often, however, these feathers are only slightly peaked. Ash-throated Flycatchers lean a bit forward and tip their head from side to side almost as if they are trying to figure something out.