Friday, September 20, 2013

Two Unique Flycatchers (Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher and Tropical Kingbird), Woodpeckers and More

 [SE Arizona, Sept. 2013]

There are some commonly found birds in Mexico that barely reach into US territory; of course, the birds are apolitical and don't know that they are crossing an international boundary. But, for us, the ability to see them on "our side of the border" makes them very special. A few of these are well known such as the Elegant Trogon and Colima Warbler.

Two such species will be profiled here: both specialty birds of Southeast Arizona:
  • Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher
  • Tropical Kingbird
Additionally, we'll cover an eclectic assortment of woodpeckers:
  • Gilded Flicker
  • Acorn Woodpecker
  • Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  • Hairy Woodpecker
And other birds typical of the region such as:
  • Plumbeous Vireo
  • Pygmy and White-breasted Nuthatches
  • Hepatic Tanager
  • Yellow-eyed Junco
All these species were observed mainly in Madera Canyon and Mt. Lemmon.

First, the spectacular Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher -- this is a large flycatcher with a huge bill -- much like the Great Kiskadee; but, perhaps with even a more imposing bill.

To see this unparalleled flycatcher in the US, your only option is to go to SE Arizona where it is found at elevations between a mile a mile and a half above sea level in wooded canyons. This individual was seen at Madera Canyon between the Santa Rita Lodge and the Amphitheater trailhead parking lot.
Seen in a family group, this flycatcher has boldly streaked, bright yellow undersides and dark uppersides. The face shows a prominent eyestripe underscored with white while the tail is distinctly rusty.
Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher showing rusty tail

Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher

Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers are vocal and their calls resemble high-pitched squeaky-toy sounds.


Tropical Kingbird was seen at Sweetwater Wetlands. Found in the US only in SE Arizona and Southern Texas, it is otherwise commonly found in Central and South America.

Tropical Kingbird

Tropical Kingbird is very similar to Couch's Kingbird with lemony undersides and a grey head; however, their calls are sufficiently distinct.


Not bothered by human-altered habitat, the population of this flycatcher is increasing. It is also extremely aggressive in defending its territory from intruders -- even those that are several times larger.

Next, the woodpeckers: Gilded Flicker is a range-restricted species found in Mexico and the Southwest US -- mainly in Southern Arizona.
Gilded Flicker

This large woodpecker has a prominent red mustache and black breast-crescent with spotted undersides.

It was earlier considered conspecific with the Northern Flicker; however, it has limited range overlap with the Northern and they two species don't easily hybridize. This woodpecker was seen at Rose Canyon.



Seen at the same venue was this Acorn Woodpecker. Unmistakeable in its looks, this medium-sized woodpecker is also unusual in habits: a cooperative breeder, highly gregarious, and acorn-obsessed.

These woodpeckers use trees as acorn larders, sometimes storing hundreds of pounds of acorns in a single tree.


Perhaps not as distinctive is the Ladder-backed Woodpecker (seen at Sweetwater Wetlands); this is another woodpecker of the Southwest and thrives in arid environments.


More familiar is the Hairy Woodpecker (Western race) that was observed at Rose Canyon.


High up in the trees, a typical vireo-like call was heard. Upon closer inspection, it was identified as Plumbeous Vireo.


Plumbeous was recognied as a separate species when Solitary Vireo was split 3-ways into Plumbeous, Blue-headed, and Cassin's.

Commoner species included Pygmy and White-breasted Nuthatch:

Pygmy Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

.. and, a female Hepatic Tanager:

Hepatic Tanager (female)

While not an uncommon bird, it is the most range-restricted of our Tanagers.


Lastly, the ubiquitous Yellow-eyed Junco which was observed commonly in suitable habitat throughout the higher elevations at Mt. Lemmon.

The thrill of seeing a range-restricted species in the US is sure to give any visitor to SE Arizona the birding goosebumps. And, spectacular species such as Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher and Tropical Kingbird are prime examples of tropic of neotropical species that can be found in our own "backyard".

=============== Footnote ================

Two woodpeckers of the area that were missed this time but are worth mentioning are Arizona Woodpecker and Red-naped Sapsucker. Here are some earlier photographs of these species taken at Madera Canyon:

Red-naped Sapsucker

Red-naped Sapsucker

And Arizona Woodpecker

Arizona Woodpecker


This brown woodpecker is found only in a tiny swathe across SE Arizona and SW New Mexico.

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