Tyrant flycatchers are found in a habitats ranging from hot, wet tropical forests to dry deserts and inhospitable mountains at heights that insects still can live. They are absent only from the coldest alpine tundra and Arctic regions. Most tyran-nids require trees in combination with open areas, so they can sight prey from a perch and fly out to catch insects in midair. Some species stay mainly below the lower canopy, in shrublike vegetation; others perch within the higher canopy where tree vegetation is sparse and affords room to maneuver.

In many cases, two closely related species occupy the same general location but avoid competition by remaining in habitats separated by height, density of vegetation, wetness, or type of tree. Such distinctions can help identify a species. For instance, Hammond's flycatcher (Empidonax hammondii) frequents the dense, high canopy of tall, mature conifers; while the dusky flycatcher (Empidonax oberholseri), which has a like appearance, lives in a similar habitat and region but stays lower to the ground in more open areas.

Most migrant tyrant flycatchers winter in a habitat similar to their breeding habitat.

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