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Birds of the St. Croix River Valley: Minnesota and Wisconsin

FAMILY TYRANNIDAE

Tyrant Flycatchers


Eastern Kingbird -- Western Kingbird -- Great Crested Flycatcher -- Eastern Phoebe -- Yellow-bellied Flycatcher -- Acadian Flycatcher -- Willow Flycatcher -- Alder Flycatcher -- Least Flycatcher -- Eastern Wood Pewee -- Olive-sided Flycatcher

Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus)

Status: Regular migrant and nesting species.

Migration: Common migrant throughout the Valley. Spring migrants return to the Western Upland 30 April to 5 May and reach the Northern Highland by 10 May (earliest-11 April 1954, Crex Meadows, Burnett County). Peak spring migration occurs 10-25 May and most birds are on nesting territories by 1 June. Fall migration begins in early August. Peak fall populations occur 20 August to 1 September and departure by 15 September (latest-2 October 1969, Chisago County).

Nesting Season Distribution: Common breeding species in all regions. Confirmed breeding records exist only for Pierce, Polk, and St. Croix counties. Inferred nesting exists for the remaining counties. Breeding Bird Survey data (Table 3) indicate that an unusually uniform and well-distributed breeding population exists within the Valley.

Habitat: Eastern kingbirds use edge habitats probably more than any other flycatcher. Characteristics of typical eastern kingbird breeding habitat include woodlots, scattered clumps of tall shrubs, fencelines, open fields, and edges of sedge meadows. Fences and transmission lines are apparently important components of breeding habitat and are used extensively as hunting perches. Jackson (1942) found eastern kingbirds "especially abundant" in Jack Pine Barrens and regrown burned areas in northwestern Wisconsin.


Western Kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis)

Status: Casual migrant and nesting species.

Migration: Rare spring and fall migrant. Records are too few to determine average dates of arrival or departure. However, most observations occur 15 May to 1 September. Migrants have been recorded from Burnett, St. Croix, and Washington counties.

Nesting Season Distribution: Rare nesting species in St. Croix County. Nesting was first reported in 1961 when a pair was successful at Hudson. A pair returned to the same site each year until 1971 when small boys shot the pair from the nest. During the summer of 1967, Peter Tweet found an additional breeding pair near Burkhardt, in west central St. Croix County. Additional breeding season records include a single bird at Crex Meadows, Burnett County, on 27 July 1953, 11 and 26 July, and 5 August 1956. In Minnesota, two young were observed at Langdon, Washington County, on 13 August 1952 (Lupient 1952). In St. Croix County, western kingbirds were not recorded again until I observed a group of four near New Richmond on 16 August 1975. This group remained in the same area until 25 August. The next record was obtained on 19 August 1976, when a single bird was found in the same area. This individual remained in the area until 26 August 1976.

Habitat: The Hudson breeding pair was located in a residential area. Other records of breeding pairs are associated with edge habitats in agricultural areas.


Great Crested Flycatcher (Myiarchus crinitus)

Status: Regular migrant and nesting species.

Migration: Uncommon to fairly common migrant throughout the Valley, locally common along the lower reaches of the St. Croix River. Spring migrants generally arrive about 1 May in the Western Upland and 5-10 May in the Northern Highland. Peak abundance occurs 15-30 May. Fall migration begins in mid-August, reaching peak abundance by 1 September. Migrants have departed the Northern Highland by 15 September and the remainder of the region by 25 September.

Nesting Season Distribution: Uncommon nesting species in the Western Upland and Central Plain, fairly common to locally common in the Northern Highland. Breeding Bird Survey data (Table 3) suggest a gradual increase in breeding densities moving northward through the Valley. However, Jackson (1942) recorded great crested flycatchers as "never more than two seen at a locality . . ." in the Northern Highland. Goddard (1972) found this flycatcher to be among the 12 most numerous breeding birds along the Kinnickinnic River Valley in Pierce County. Nesting has been confirmed only in St. Croix County where I observed a nest along the Willow River on 10 June 1975. Although only one nest has been confirmed, inferred nesting records have been obtained in the remaining counties.

Habitat: The great crested flycatcher is a forest species, generally associated with the upper canopy of medium-aged to mature deciduous forest. The only confirmed nesting record was obtained from a mature Lowland Deciduous Forest where cottonwood was the predominant tree species. Pairs are commonly recorded in extensive stands of Northern Hardwood Forest and in Southern Deciduous Forest. Use of residential habitats has also been recorded.


Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe)

Status: Regular migrant and nesting species.

Migration: Fairly common migrant throughout the Valley. Eastern phoebes are among the first passerines to return in the spring; the first migrants arrive in the Western Upland 20-25 March. Although most observations consist of pairs on breeding territories, a peak in spring migration is apparent 15-25 April. Fall migration begins in mid-August and peak movements occur 5-15 September. Late departure dates range from 1-5 October in the Northern Highland to 20 October in the Western Upland.

Nesting Season Distribution: Fairly common nesting species in all regions and documented nesting records exist from each county. Breeding Bird Survey data (Table 3) indicate a fairly evenly distributed breeding population. Jackson (1942) considered the eastern phoebe to be a very common breeding bird along the St. Croix River. Goddard (1972) reported a density of 9.1 breeding pairs per 40 ha in the Kinnickinnic River Valley, Pierce County.

Habitat: Eastern phoebes are attracted to a variety of edge situations, primarily woods-field border and streamside habitats. During the nesting season, eastern phoebes are usually associated with bridges, culverts, and other man-made structures, sheer cliffs, and rocky outcroppings.


Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (Empidonax flaviventris)

Status: Regular migrant, one nesting record.

Migration: Uncommon spring migrant in the Western Upland and Central Plain, locally common in the Northern Highland. Fairly common to locally common fall migrant in all regions. Earliest spring migrants arrive 10-15 May, reaching the Northern Highland about 20 May. Peak migration occurs 20-30 May and departure from most areas by 5 June. Fall migration begins by mid-August (earliest-31 July 1967, Washington County). Peak movements occur 15 August to 1 September and birds depart by 15 September.

Nesting Season Distribution: Bernard (1967) cited the only known nesting record for the region, a nest with four eggs near Wascott (Douglas County) on 21 July 1941. Green and Janssen (1975) cited the observation of singing males near Bruno, Pine County. I observed singing males along the St. Croix River near Gordon, Douglas County, on 20 July 1976, and again on 10 June 1977. In neither instance were nests observed. The yellow-bellied flycatcher is probably more widespread as a nesting species than available records indicate because of the vast amount of suitable nesting habitat in the Northern Highland.

Habitat: The 1976 and 1977 records were obtained from an extensive stand of black spruce-tamarack swamp adjacent to the St. Croix River. At other seasons, this flycatcher regularly uses a variety of edge situations.


Acadian Flycatcher (Empidonax virescens)

Status: Casual migrant and possible nesting species.

Records: Observations of this bird at the northern limit of its range have been sporadic. Because of their occurrence during normal nesting periods, this species must be considered a possible nesting bird. St. Croix County records include 12 May 1974 at Roberts, and 15 May 1973, 21 June to 5 July 1963, and 22 July 1965 at Hudson. One record exists of this species in the Minnesota Counties. Bratlie (1976) described observations at Franconia, Chisago County, on 8 and 16 June 1976.

Habitat: A species of deciduous forest habitats including Lowland Deciduous Forest and heavily wooded hillsides in mesic Southern Deciduous Forest.


Willow Flycatcher (Empidonax traillii)

The decision of the American Ornithologists' Union (AOU 1973) to split the Traill's flycatcher (Empidonax traillii) into two separate species created many problems in range delineation. Before that time, both willow and alder flycatchers were recorded as one species, even though song and habitat differences were readily apparent. Fortunately, S. D. Robbins maintained separate records of both species based on song, and from his work it is possible to draw conclusions on the range of these two species in Wisconsin (Robbins 1974b). Because this work was not carried out in Minnesota, only generalized distribution can be provided for that State.

Status: Regular nesting species.

Migration: Most records of this species are of breeding pairs on territory. Consequently, dates of first occurrence are nearly impossible to determine. The earliest record I have of a singing willow flycatcher is 20 May 1974 in St. Croix County. This date is near the usual range of 10-20 May for the arrival of most Empidonax flycatchers in the Valley. Fall departure probably begins in early August and most birds have left by 15 September. Because nearly all Empidonax flycatchers are silent in the fall, few data exist on their migration.

Nesting Season Distribution: Robbins (1974b) cited summer records of this species in St. Croix County in 1961-67 and 1970. There are Polk County records in 1965-67 and 1970 and Pierce County records for 1965-78. S. D. Robbins (personal communication) found a singing male willow flycatcher near Fish Lake, Burnett County, on 17 June 1978 and 22 June 1977. I observed male willow flycatchers on territory in Washington County near Stillwater on 6 July 1978. Breeding Bird Survey data were not separable to species until 1975. Consequently, only recent survey data from the Loraine transect in Polk County provide information on relative abundance (Table 3). One nesting record exists for the region. I found a nest with four eggs along Black Brook, Cylon Township, St. Croix County, on 9 July 1978.

Habitat: Willow thickets and Shrub Carr associations are the primary habitats of this bird. The St. Croix County nest was placed in a young black willow located in an extensive Shrub Carr. Observations of singing males are invariably associated with these wetland types.


Alder Flycatcher (Empidonax alnorum)

Status: Regular migrant and nesting species.

Migration: Observations of alder flycatchers during spring are usually pairs on presumed breeding territories. Song dates of first observation usually occur 15-20 May in the Western Upland and about 20 May in the Northern Highland. Alder flycatchers are apparently most numerous 20 May to 5 June. Fall migration begins in mid-August, reaching peak numbers 1-10 September. Departure of this species occurs 15-20 September.

Nesting Season Distribution: Fairly common to locally common nesting species north of the Tension Zone. Within this zone of overlap, observations of breeding pairs have been made in southern Washington and northwestern Pierce counties. Breeding Bird Survey data (Table 3) indicate that the largest breeding populations occur north of the Tension Zone. Documented nesting records exist for Polk and Douglas counties. Faanes and Goddard (1976) cited observations of singing males 15-20 June in northern St. Croix County.

Habitat: Alder flycatchers use a greater diversity of habitat types than is used by the preceding species. Nests in Polk County were in Alder Thicket habitat where speckled alder was the predominant shrub species. Elsewhere, breeding pairs have been recorded in Northern Hardwood Forest, Black Spruce-Tamarack Bogs, and Deciduous Clear Cuts.

Least Flycatcher (Empidonax minimus)

Status: Regular migrant and nesting species.

Migration: Common to locally abundant migrant in all regions, reaching largest numbers in the Central Plain and Northern Highland. Spring migrants arrive in the Western Upland l-5 May and the Northern Highland by 10 May. Peak abundance occurs 15 May in the Western Upland to 20 May in the north. Fall migration begins in early August. Peak fall migration occurs 20 August to 1 September in the north and 25 August to 5 September elsewhere. Departure from the Northern Highland occurs 10-15 September and elsewhere by 30 September (latest-5 October 1974, St. Croix County).

Nesting Season Distribution: Common to locally abundant nesting species in all regions. Goddard (1972) reported a breeding density of 8.1 pairs per 40 ha in the Kinnickinnic River Valley, Pierce County. Confirmed nesting records exist only for Polk County; inferred nesting has been documented in all other counties. Breeding Bird Survey data (Table 3) indicate that least flycatcher breeding populations apparently increase in abundance moving northward through the Valley, reaching peak density in the Northern Highland. Jackson (1942) reported that the least flycatcher was the most abundant flycatcher in Polk and Burnett counties.

Habitat: Primarily an edge species; nesting season least flycatchers are usually recorded in a variety of habitat types. Western Upland breeding birds are usually associated with medium-aged Southern Deciduous Forest and mature Lowland Deciduous Forest. Central Plain and Northern Highland birds are typically recorded in mature Northern Hardwood Forest, Deciduous Clear Cut, and mixed coniferous-deciduous forest. In the Jack Pine Barren regions of the Central Plain, breeding pairs are usually associated with deciduous habitats along streams rather than jack pines.


Eastern Wood Pewee (Contopus virens)

Status: Regular migrant and nesting species.

Migration: Eastern wood pewees are among the latest arriving flycatchers in this region, usually not observed until after 15 May (earliest-26 April 1974, Burnett County), and peak migration occurs 20-30 May. Fall migration begins about 5 August in the Northern Highland and 15 August elsewhere. Peak migration occurs 20 August to 1 September and departure by 25 September (latest-27 September 1976, Washington County).

Nesting Season Distribution: Fairly common nesting species in all regions of the Valley. Confirmed nesting has been documented in St. Croix and Douglas counties with inferred nesting elsewhere. Breeding Bird Survey data (Table 3) indicate that a fairly uniform breeding population occurs in the Western Upland and Central Plain. Relative abundance increases markedly north of that zone. Goddard (1972) found this species to be the sixth most abundant breeding bird along the Kinnickinnic River in Pierce County. The mean breeding density in that area was 27.4 pairs per 40 ha.

Habitat: The eastern wood pewee is characteristic of mature deciduous forest. In the Western Upland, breeding pairs are generally associated with mature Lowland Deciduous Forest and occasionally with mature Southern Deciduous Forest. Central Plain and Northern Highland populations are apparently most numerous in mature Northern Hardwood Forest.


Olive-sided Flycatcher (Nuttallornis borealis)

Status: Regular migrant and nesting species.

Migration: The olive-sided flycatcher is among the latest arriving songbirds. Average date of spring arrivals in the Western Upland is 16 May and arrivals in the Northern Highland are during 20-25 May. Dates of peak abundance are not provided, primarily because this bird migrates singly or in small groups. Consequently, very few individuals are recorded daily during periods when they would be expected to be numerous. Migrants have usually departed nonbreeding areas by 1 June (latest-11 June 1974, Pierce County). Fall migrants arrive in the Western Upland during early August and become most conspicuous 20-30 August. Departure from northern nesting areas occurs about 5 September and departure elsewhere by 20 September.

Nesting Season Distribution: The only confirmed evidence of nesting is provided by Green and Janssen (1975) who listed a nest record from Sturgeon Lake, Pine County. Considerable inferred breeding evidence exists for northern Burnett and southern Douglas counties where this bird is an uncommon and local summer resident. Although nests have not been observed, extensive stands of black spruce-tamarack habitat along the St. Croix River in Burnett, Douglas, and Pine counties usually support breeding season adults.

Habitat: Olive-sided flycatchers are characteristic of boreal forest habitat during the nesting season. Extensive stands of Lowland Coniferous Forest, combined with an interspersion of open areas of sphagnum moss provide ideal breeding habitat. Also frequently used are white cedar swamps. One factor that characterizes olive-sided flycatcher habitat is the presence of dead snags that are used for feeding and singing perches.


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