Behavior And Reproduction

Songs and calls are important in helping tyrant flycatchers recognize their own species, especially when several different members of this family live in the same area and look similar. Most species of tyrant flycatchers form pairs only for a single breeding season, choosing a different mate the next year. The female does most of the nest building, although the male sometimes keeps her company as she gathers material for the nest.

Tyrant flycatchers build many different types of nests in a variety of different locations. Many species build open cup-like nests in trees or shrubs. Some species nest in holes in trees, while others, such as phoebes, build nests of mud and plant material under bridges or under the eaves of empty buildings. Other species build bag-type nests that hang from branches over streams. Generally tyrant flycatchers select nest sites that offer some protection from predators and the weather.

Tyrant flycatchers lay two to eight eggs, and have one or two broods, or groups of young, a year. The female sits on the nest and incubates, sits on and warms, the eggs for about two weeks. The eggs hatch over several days, rather than all at the same time. Newborn tyrant flycatchers are almost naked and take two to three weeks to fledge, or develop feathers. During this time, both parents feed the young birds.

Tyrant flycatchers are territorial while they are breeding. They actively defend the area where they are nesting against other birds of the same or competing species and do their best to drive them away. Some tyrant flycatchers are very aggressive. The family gets the name tyrant from the behavior of kingbirds, which sometimes fearlessly attack larger birds.


The naturalist John James Audubon chose the eastern phoebe as the first bird to band, or tag, in the United States in 1840. He used information from these banded birds to find out where they migrated and whether they returned to the same places each year.

Tyrant flycatchers that nest at the extreme edges of their range—either in the Arctic or near at the southern tip of South America—migrate hundreds of miles to warmer climates in order to find food when cold weather sets in. Other species that live in less extreme climates move much shorter distances or not at all. Migrating birds tend to return to the same nesting area each year.

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