a web page by Don Roberson
  • 6 species in the Neotropics
  • DR personal total: 5 species (83%), 1 photo'd

The revolution in avian taxonomy that arose from molecular analysis split up the huge families in the Old World two decades ago. The Old World Warblers were transferred to a dozen or so families; the Babblers into seven or more. The nine-primaried New World passerines were split into more than a dozen families just a few years ago. It was only a matter of time before studies reached the Tyrant Flycatchers.

When the Tyrannidae account in the Handbook of the Birds of the World was published in 2004 (Fitzpatrick et al. 2004), it had 429 species. Even then, anatomical evidence showed some oddities. One example was a syringeal character — the presence of an intrinsic M. obliquus vertalis muscle — in the vast majority of tyrannids. This syringeal muscle was missing in a few genera, including Myiobius, Onychorhynchus, and Terenotriccus (Fitzpatrick et al. 2004). A member of that set is Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher of Central and northern South America (left).

Published studies by Tello & Bates (2007), Rheindt et al. (2008), Tello et al. (2009), and Ohlson et al. (2008, 2013) have been very useful in unraveling the relationships of Tyrant Flycatchers and relatives, but they have not agreed on all points. Tello and Bates (2007) discovered a small isolated clade, which they called the “Myiobius assemblage," that they and Rheindt et al. (2008) thought was a early branch in the Tyrannida. Ohlson et al. (2008) found that the “Myiobius assemblage” was a basal group and then Ohlson et al. (2013) found that it was sister group, as was the Sharpbill, to all the rest of the Tyrant Flycatchers. Sharpbill had previously been elevated to Family status by SACC and other authorities. Ohlson et al. (2013) argued in favor of elevating the group to Family status, the Onychorhynchidae, which we'll call the Royal Flycatcher & allies, as the latin name for the new family comes from Royal Flycatcher. The AOU adopted this Family status in their summer 2018 supplement. I follow here.
      Clements/eBird and other authorities have not yet authorized this family split, noting that Ohlson et al. (2013) had also proposed Family status for the Pipritidae (Piprites), the Platyrinchidae (Spadebills & allies), the Rhynchocyclidae (Mionectine flycatchers), and the Tachurididae (Many-colored Rush Tyrant). They, and the SACC, are awaiting the results of a larger study of the entire Tyranni, due out perhaps in 2019. At this moment in time, the IOC considers this group a member of the Tityridae. World birders should be aware of all these potential families, in addition to the just-split Onychorhynchidae.

All six members of this new family are retiring species of the dark forest understory. Royal Flycatcher may be the most retiring member of the entire group (photo, right, by Arthur Grosset). It is a short-legged, mouse-colored bird with a pale rump and slightly 'hammer-headed' look. Fitzpatrick et al. (2004) note that "On closer inspection the broad-based bill seems unusually long, tipped with a prominent hook and surrounded by lengthy rictal bristles. These almost cat-like whiskers are the longest in the family. Only in display is the bird's real secret revealed. Each feather of the crest is greatly elongated, yellowish-orange in the female, scarlet in the male, and tipped with iridescent violet-black. The crest is fanned out vertically and laterally to produce a peacock-tail of vivid color. To accentuate the impression, the mouth is usually opened to show a bright orange lining, and the head is tipped form side to side in a steady mechanical fashion. It is postulated that this display occurs in courtship and during intra-sexual competition, but it is very rarely seen in the field. In general day-to-day behavior, the crest is furled and almost invisible."

Royal Flycatcher is widespread in low numbers throughout the lowland forests of the Neotropics, from Mexico to southeastern Brazil, but is sometimes split into four more localized species.

There are four "pale-rumped" flycatchers in the genus Myiobius: Sulphur-rumped (shown above), Tawny-breasted Flycatcher Myiobius villosus, Whiskered Flycatcher M. barbatus, and Black-tailed Flycatcher M. atricaudus. Between them they inhabit most of the Central and South American lowlands. Myiobius flycatchers forage from low to middle levels and can often fan their tails, recalling to some extent the Old World fantails. The members of the genus use flush-and-drop strategies, pursuing flushed prey in short, acrobatic, aerial sallies. All have prominent long rictal bristles.

The final species in this new family is the rather widespread Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher (photo, left, by Arthur Grosset). It, too, has long rectal bristles, a characteristic of this Family. Ruddy-tailed usually forages alone, searching from a perch, in vertical posture, often flicking wings quickly over its back. It abruptly darts in pursuit of prey, using aerial sallies or hover-gleaning maneuvers (Fitzpatrick et al. 2004).


Photos: The Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher Myiobius sulphureipygius was at Rio Tigre, Costa Rica, on 25 Dec 2007. Arthur Grosset photographed the Royal Flycatcher Onychorhynchus coronatus at Intervales NP, southeastern Brazil, in April 2004. Arthur Grosset photographed the Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher Terenotriccus erythrurus in March 2003 at Rondonia, Brazil.

      Uncredited photos © Don Roberson. Credited photos © Arthur Grosset, as credited, and used with permission; all rights reserved. Many Neotropical bird photos are on his web site.

Bibliographic note: There is no "family book" per se, but a introduction to this family, when it was embedded in the Tyrannidae, is in Fitzpatrick et al. (2004).

Literature cited:

Fitzpatrick, J.W., J.M. Bates, K.S. Bostwick, I.C. Caballero, B.M. Clock, A. farnsworth, P.A. Hosner, L. Joseph, G. M. Langham, D.J. Belling, J.A. Mobley, M.B. Robbins, E. Schotes, J.G. Tello. B.A. Wather, and K.J. Zimmer. 2004. Family Tyrannidae (Tyrant-Flycatchers), pp. 170 –463 in Handbook of the Birds of the World (del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott & D.A. Christie, eds). Vol. 9. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

Ohlson, J., J. Fjeldså, and P.G.P. Ericson. 2008. Tyrant flycatchers coming out in the open: phylogeny and ecological radiation of Tyrannidae (Aves, Passeriformes). Zool. Scripta 37: 315-335.

Ohlson, J.I., M. Irestedt, P.G.P. Ericson, and J. Fjeldså. 2013. Phylogeny and classification of the New World suboscines (Aves, Passeriformes). Zootaxa 3613, 1-35.

Rheindt, F.E., A.M. Cuervo, and R.T. Brumfield. 2008. Rampant polyphyly indicates cryptic diversity in a clade of Neotropical flycatchers (Aves: Tyrannidae). Biol. J. Linn. Soc. 108: 889-900.

Sibley, C.G., and J.E. Ahlquist. 1990. Phylogeny and Classification of Birds: a Study of Molecular Evolution. Yale Univ. Press, New Haven, CT.

Tello, J.G., and J.M. Bates. 2007. Molecular phylogenetics of the tody-tyrant and flatbill assemblage of tyrant flycatchers (Tyrannidae).Auk 124: 134-154.

Tello, J.G., R.G. Moyle, D.J. Marchese and J. Cracraft. 2009. Phylogeny and phylogenetic classification of the tyrant flycatchers, cotingas, manakins, and their allies (Aves: Tyrannides). Cladistics 25: 429-467.




  page created 21 Dec 2018  
all text & photos © Don Roberson, except as otherwise indicated; all rights reserved