Note: rufous primaries and heavy bill.
  • Note: rufous primaries and heavy bill.
  • Note: pale gray throat and breast, yellow belly and rufous undertail

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Ash-throated Flycatcher

Myiarchus cinerascens
Members of this diverse group make up more than half of the bird species worldwide. Most are small. However their brains are relatively large and their learning abilities are greater than those of most other birds. Passerine birds are divided into two suborders, the suboscines and the oscines. Oscines are capable of more complex song, and are considered the true songbirds. In Washington, the tyrant flycatchers are the only suboscines; the remaining 27 families are oscines.
Unlike most passerines found in North America, flycatchers are suboscines. Suboscines have a simpler syrinx (voice box) than the oscines (songbirds), and hence have less-developed and less-elaborate songs. Their song is innate, and does not contain a learned component. The flycatchers are the only suboscine passerines found in North America north of Mexico. Nearly all suboscines (and all Tyrannidae) are native to the New World, and they are much more numerous in the tropics, where several other families occur in addition to the Tyrannidae. Flycatchers are named for their foraging style. They sit quietly on a perch and dart out to grab a flying insect from the air, and then return to their perch to wait for the next meal to fly by. Many also forage by hovering next to foliage or over the ground. Most have a distinct, upright posture and a slight crest. They have small feet as they do not typically walk or run on the ground. Most flycatchers are monogamous. The female generally builds the nest, incubates the eggs, and broods the young, although both parents feed the young. Flycatchers of the genus Empidonax pose many identification challenges for birders. Range, habitat, vocalizations, and behavior must all be taken into account to distinguish between members of this group.
Fairly common summer resident east.
  • Species of Concern
  • Sound To Sage

General Description

This large, long-tailed flycatcher has a pale yellow belly, gray breast and head, and rufous on its wings and tail. Other flycatchers in the same crested-flycatcher genus appear similar, but none are found in Washington, rendering identification in this state fairly easy.


The Ash-throated Flycatcher is typically a bird of open, arid habitats, although in Washington, it is restricted to a small band of Garry oak and streamside woodlands in the southeastern Cascade foothills.


Much of the time Ash-throated Flycatchers sit still and are inconspicuous. When foraging, they sit on a branch and fly out in short bursts to glean prey from low foliage, branches, or the ground. Unlike many flycatchers, they seldom catch food in mid-air.


Insects are the most common food, although they may eat some fruits and berries.


Ash-throated Flycatchers nest in tree cavities or nest boxes. Both members of the pair help build the nest, which is a mass of twigs, rootlets, and weeds, lined with soft feathers and hair. The female incubates four to five eggs for about 15 days. Both parents feed the young, which leave the nest and begin to fly at 14 to 16 days. The parents continue to feed the young for a few days after they leave the nest, and often raise a second brood.

Migration Status

Some Ash-throated Flycatchers winter in southwestern Arizona and southern California, but many migrate to Mexico. They begin to leave Washington in mid-August and start to return in mid-May.

Conservation Status

The first record of an Ash-throated Flycatcher in Washington was in Yakima County in 1903. South-central Washington is currently the northernmost extension of their range, although they may once have ranged as far north as Okanogan County. Numbers appear to be stable throughout their range, and their adaptability to artificial nest boxes may help them. There are anecdotal reports of bluebirds and House Wrens taking over the nests of Ash-throated Flycatchers.

When and Where to Find in Washington

Ash-throated Flycatchers are patchily distributed in a small area of Washington. A few pairs can be found in Yakima, Kittitas, Chelan, Grant, and Adams Counties, although the majority of the population nests in south-central Klickitat County near rivers and in oak stands, such as along Rock Creek.

Click here to visit this species' account and breeding-season distribution map in Sound to Sage, Seattle Audubon's on-line breeding bird atlas of Island, King, Kitsap, and Kittitas Counties.

Abundance Code DefinitionsAbundance

C=Common; F=Fairly Common; U=Uncommon; R=Rare; I=Irregular
Pacific Northwest Coast
Puget Trough
North Cascades
West Cascades
East Cascades UUUR
Canadian Rockies
Blue Mountains
Columbia Plateau

Washington Range Map

North American Range Map

North America map legend

Federal Endangered Species ListAudubon/American Bird Conservancy Watch ListState Endangered Species ListAudubon Washington Vulnerable Birds List

View full list of Washington State's Species of Special Concern