Rufous flycatcher (Myiarchus semirufus)

GenusMyiarchus (1)
SizeLength: 17 - 19 cm (2)
Weightca. 21 - 25 g (3)

Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1).

Distinguished from all other members of the genus by its rufous rather than grey or yellow colouration (2) (3) (4), the rufous flycatcher is a distinctive, medium-sized flycatcher with a brown head and upperparts, predominantly reddish-brown wings and tail, and a cinnamon-rufous throat and underparts (2). The legs, eyes and longish beak are dark, and the feathers of the crown can be raised in a fairly long crest (2) (3). Male and female rufous flycatchers are similar in appearance, and juveniles resemble the adults (2). Although not particularly vocal, the rufous flycatcher uses a descending huit note when foraging, and the song, performed at dawn, consists of alternating huit notes, rasping whistles, and some rasping ‘hiccup’ notes (2) (3).

The rufous flycatcher has one of the smallest ranges of all the Myiarchus flycatchers, being endemic to a narrow strip of lowland in the Tumbes region of Peru (2) (3) (4). The species formerly occurred south to the Rio Pativilca, 200 kilometres north of Lima (3), but its range appears to have contracted northwards in recent years (2).

The rufous flycatcher inhabits lowland thorny desert, mesquite savanna and dry steppes, mainly in open thorn-woodland dominated by mesquite (Prosopsis) and acacia (Acacia), with trees widely separated by sparse grasses and herbs (2) (3). It may also sometimes occur in agricultural areas, and in isolated mesquite groves in desert (2).

Relatively little is known about the life history of the rufous flycatcher. Like all members of the genus, it usually nests in tree cavities, lining the nest with soft fur, feathers, and sometimes other materials such as shed reptile skin and paper (3) (5). Breeding has been recorded between December and May, although southern populations may breed earlier than northern ones (2) (3). Up to three or four creamy white, brown-blotched eggs may be laid (3) (5). The rufous flycatcher is thought to forage for insects at low to medium levels within vegetation, and has also been recorded eating berries (3).

The rufous flycatcher has undergone a decline in both numbers and distribution, and its small population, restricted to a tiny and fragmented range, makes it particularly vulnerable to extinction. The main threat to the species is the increasing human population in the region, bringing with it an increase in grazing pressure, overcollection of firewood, and the deliberate killing of flycatchers, which predate bees at the hives of local bee-keepers. In some areas the cutting of live wood is prohibited, but this has led to an increased demand for dead wood, which may reduce the availability of cavity nest sites for this species (2).

Further survey work is needed to clarify the current distribution and status of the rufous flycatcher, and may well reveal that it is more widespread and common than previously believed (2). However, no specific conservation actions are known to be in place for the species, although it is reported to occur in the Pomac Forest Historical Sanctuary (Santuario Historico Bosque de Pomac) (2), and within the Chaparri Private Conservation Area, a community owned and managed private reserve (6). Habitat protection and the banning of grazing and of firewood collection in Prosopsis and Acacia woodland, together with raising awareness of the species’ plight and encouraging bee-keepers not to kill flycatchers, will also be needed to protect this endemic flycatcher from extinction (2).

To find out more about the rufous flycatcher, and about conservation in the Chaparri Reserve, see:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (December, 2009)
  2. BirdLife International (December, 2009)
  3. Lanyon, W.E. (1975) Behavior and generic status of the rufous flycatcher of Peru. The Wilson Bulletin, 87(4): 441-455.
  4. Ridgely, R.S. and Tudor, G. (1994) The Birds of South America: The Suboscine Passerines. Volume II. University of Texas Press, Austin, Texas.
  5. Lanyon, W.E. (1985) A phylogeny of the Myiarchine flycatchers. Ornithological Monographs, 36: 360-380.
  6. Chaparrí Reserve (December, 2009)