Introducing the Yellow-bellied Flycatcher

Yellow-bellied flycatchers are elusive little birds and commonly confused with others in the flycatcher family. I’ve only seen one once and it was purely by accident and pure joy! Thankfully, it is not because they are endangered, they are just shy and like to stay hidden in evergreen trees foraging on insects.

Let me tell you a little bit about this bird and share some resources that will increase your chances of seeing them in your area and how you can help them continue to thrive.

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (Empidonax flaviventris) 87% by Kristin M Roach, limited edition prints available

I painted this sweet little bird that sings a rising whistled tu-wee in 2013. It wasn’t until 8 years LATER I finally had a glimpse in person and heard its song with my own ears. I was hiking in the woods with a friend, glanced up and on the edge of the prairie, flitting in the some evergreen & berry trees was a flash of yellow-green. (Peggy’s Trail, Ames, Iowa; September 2020). As it turns out, in Iowa, you are most likely to see them in May and September.

“Yellow-bellied Flycatcher singing on territory in northern Maine in June.”

One of the most challenging parts of this series is the difficulty in finding what birds will be flying through my area. I’ve found a few general ideas via local Audubon Society Chapters and here in Iowa we also have the Iowa Ornithology Union. eBird has extensive sighting data, but it’s stripped of it’s dates and locations to keep the birds safe from poaching.

When I originally envisioned this series, I imagined I’d give you all the secrets to finding and seeing these birds. The more I looked into it though, the more I realized that they should stay protected and the data should stay hidden.

The story I read in the early days of discovering the yellow-bellied flycatcher is a sadly common one and why the Migratory Bird Treaty Act exists. Here, I’ll read you an excerpt: “Charles Johnson Maynard reported shooting one on May 31, 1869, and then eight more the next day (Studer 1876), and from then on the species became known as a rare to uncommon migrant in the state (MassAudubon).” That single sentence speaks so much to the plight of migratory song birds. I mean seriously. You shoot 9 and then, well yeah. They become less common.

Where and When to see Yellow-bellied Flycatchers

I agree that specific bird habitats should remain elusive. So instead of sharing secrets, I will help you determine if you are likely to find it in your area; and if you are, how to identify it.

First, look at the migration map above, does its general range include your locale?

Second, visit ebird and you can narrow sightings down to your county.

Third, do a little networking and connect with your local Audubon society and see if they have a watch list like the Iowa City group does. It’s a general breakdown of what kind of bird types you are likely to see which months.

How to identify Birds in General

A few things I’ve found helpful as a very beginning birder is to try and remember:

  • Size (bigger or larger than a bird you do know like a cardinal, sparrow or red-tail hawk)
  • Bill shape
  • Markings around the eye
  • Crest or other distinguishing features like it has a purple breast.
  • Tail shape

Cornell is a proponent of citizen science, so they offer many course.

While names are not important for enjoyment of birding, there is a certain thill in putting a name to a bird. For me, naming helps to solidify the memory and experience of seeing and hearing it. Of course photographing, drawing, and painting help too.

How the Junk Mail Migration Series helps the Yellow-bellied Flycatcher Thrive

When you add Yellow-bellied Flycatcher to your home and you are helping to support song bird conservation in the Boreal Forest. Whenever I sell work from the Junk Mail Migration Series, 10% will be donated to the Boreal Songbird Initiative. Limited Edition Prints are now available. The original has found a good home and is no longer in my care.

What is the Boreal Songbird Initiative? Their work is the spark that inspired this ongoing series of paintings (Read about how and why I started painting migratory birds on junk mail). In their own words, “As the voice for boreal birds, the Boreal Songbird Initiative (BSI) is committed to protecting the Canadian Boreal Forest—the largest intact forest on Earth—on behalf of the billions of migratory birds that rely on it.” — Boreal Songbird Initiative

Published by kristinMroach

Hi! I am an artist, author, and owner of a modern apothecary called Little Woods in Ames, Iowa.