Though predominantly insectivorous, tyrant flycatchers supplement their diet with all sorts of additional foods. Many species take spiders, caterpillars, berries, and fruit. The largest tyrannids often catch small vertebrates like fish, frogs, lizards, and even mice; occasionally some, like kiskadees and ground tyrants, become nest robbers.
Flycatchers' methods of obtaining food are variable. Many species rest on perches from which they seem to dive into the air to catch flying insects, returning to the perch after each flight. Whenever these birds make a catch or even just snap their bills in vain, the movement often makes an audible noise. A few species beat large insects forcefully against a branch until twitching stops. Many small species flit unobtrusively from twig to twig through thickets or in crowns of trees while catching insects. They may pick up insects and spiders from foliage or bark. Some tyrannids snatch larvae, insects, or small fish from shallow, fast-flowing water.
A number of tyrant flycatchers pick up food from the ground. The black phoebe (Sayornis nigricans), yellow-bellied flycatcher (Empidonax flaviventris), and scissor-tailed flycatcher, often sit on a fairly low perch and watch the ground beneath; they then fly down to catch crawling insects or worms. On the open steppes of southeastern South America and in the high Andes, ground tyrants walk or run on the ground and pick up worms, insects, and small vertebrates. They also make short flights in pursuit of flying insects.
The curved bill of some species is adapted to taking insects from the undersurfaces of leaves during flight or while hovering.
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