Verification of Unusual Sight Record
For Utah

Rec. # 2008-24

Common name:

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher

Scientific name: Empidonax flaviventris
Date: 08-31-08
Time: 9:00am
Length of time observed: 5 minutes
Number: 1
Age: juvenile?
Sex: unknown
Location: Salt Lake International Center
County: Salt Lake
Elevation: 4200'
Distance to bird: 6 - 40'
Optical equipment: 10x42 optics, 400mm camera lens
Weather: overcast, windy
Light Conditions: poor light
Description:        Size of bird: small
(Description:)       Basic Shape: empid-like
(Description:)  Overall Pattern: yellow, gray, black and white
(Description:)            Bill Type: tiny pointed
Field Marks and
Identifying Characteristics:
Okay so obviously this is going to be a controversial record based off that fact it is an empidonax flycatcher at a migrant trap away form the breeding grounds, not calling or singing. With that said, here goes.

The bird was initially spotted in a dead Russian Olive tree near the top. It was flycatching pretty actively. As we approached it disappeared into the tree, but as soon as I pished it shot out into the tree 20 or so feet away out in the open. The obvious field-mark that struck me right off the bat was the yellowish coloration over much of the body. The entire undersides, belly, flanks, chest, throat, back, etc had a yellow wash. Based off that I was ready to call it a Western, but upon seeing the head, and no teardrop behind the eye, as well as the smallish bill, it was apparent this was not a Western.

The eye had a small eye-ring that was sort of a pale white. It wasn't overly bold, but it was apparent. The bill was dark on top and orangish beneath, from base to tip. One of the photos appears to show some dark on the underside at the tip, but I think this is just bleeding on the image, as the underside was definitely not dark at all. The shape of the bill was sort of a mix of a Least Flycatcher and a Dusky. It wasn't too long, but it was rather thick.

I didn't have my camera, so asked the others to keep on the bird while I ran to the car to get it. As I did this the others were yelling that the bird flew. I caught it as it was flying up the row of trees, landing in a patch of Russian Olive a little bit to the north of where we were. Getting the camera we tracked it down again where I was able to see the bird had a very short tail, and moderate to short primary projection. The wings were fairly dark with two nice yellow-beige wing bars.

I would assume based off the amount of yellow that this was a first year bird, but apparently some fall adults approach this coloration. However, the lack of an obvious bold eye-ring would be an indicator that this is a young bird as well.

The bird was quite skittish and flew off after we got 10-15 pictures. We managed to relocate it twice but it would flush when we got within 30 or so feet. The best looks were in the initial 5 minutes after we found the bird.
(see photos)
Song or call & method of delivery: none heard
Behavior: Feeding, typical of a flycatcher
Habitat: Fairly open public street, lined with russian olive and other decorative trees.
Similar species and how
were they eliminated:
Where to start... I think the first thing to note here is the yellow coloration. This feature was one of the obvious ones used while living in the midwest to pick out YBFL in the trees. Some individuals were very yellow, and this was a rather effective and reliable method for ID'ing this species (along with the other field marks).

Western (Cordilleran/Pac-Slope) Flycatcher - I guess this would be the most similar in terms of color. This species is almost always washed in yellow, and stands out at least her in Utah in comparison to the other species. It also is rather large billed for an empid and has the unique tear-drop mark behind the eye, along with a slight eye-ring. The wings of this species tend to be rather dull, typically not as bold and dark against the body.

Least Flycatcher - Some birds are quite yellowish, but most I have seen tend to be more of an olive/brown and gray color. Obviously, juvenile birds of all empid species can show some yellow, but it tends to be more isolated usually in the belly, and flanks, as with this species. More importantly this species has a very short and thick bill, as well as a large head on a small body. It often looks large eyed, with a bold white eye-ring. This species also seems more long-tailed in appearance

Gray Flycatcher - This really isn't even in question. Besides the large bill, this species is typically rather gray overall, albeit some yellow in the undertail, belly and flanks.

Willow Flycatcher - This species lacks an eye-ring and has a large bill. It also tends to be fairly gray and olive.

Dusky Flycatcher - Small thin bill, and fairly long tail, I think the length of the tail in this case is a good eliminating factor. This species seems more lanky in comparison to the Yellow-bellied. IT also has somewhat of a teardrop on the eye. And although some individuals are yellowish, I have never seen a YELLOW Dusky Flycatcher.

Hammond's Flycatcher - Similar set of criteria as the Dusky. The bill is way small and the tail is longish.

Other empids... There are no other empids on the Utah checklist, and Acadian and Alder don't really fit.
Previous experience with
this & similar species:
I have seen all of the above mentioned and spend considerable time combing through migrant empids all over Utah. My senior year in college in Wisconsin I worked at a banding station where Yellow-bellied and Least Flycatcher were common migrants that were trapped rather frequntly. I have had the opportunity to observer several YBFL in hand.
References consulted: Sibley Guide to Birds, Kaufman Focus Guide, Numerous websites.
Description from: Notes made later
Observer: Tim Avery
Observer's address: Salt Lake City, Utah
Observer's e-mail address:
Other observers who independently identified this bird: There were 2 others who saw the bird, neither had previous experience with this species.
Date prepared:  09-15-08
Additional material: Photos
Additional Comments: