Family Tyrant-flycatchers (Tyrannidae)

Least Concern

Swainson's Flycatcher (Myiarchus swainsoni)


French: Tyran de Swainson German: Swainsonschopftyrann Spanish: Copetón de Swainson
Other common names: Pelzeln's Flycatcher (pelzelni), Whiteley's Flycatcher (phaeonotus)

M[yiarchus]. Swainsoni

Cabanis and Heine

, 1860,

#R, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil


Internal taxonomy complex and in need of revision. Nominate race larger and/or darker than most others, also differing vocally. Phylogenetic analysis of mtDNA#R indicates that nominate is not closely related to other races, and almost certainly represents a separate species; other races appear very closely related to each other (although phaeonotus not included in tested samples), and also closer to M. tuberculifer and M. barbirostris than to all other taxa in genus (as mirrored in voice-playback experiments). Hypothesis that variation between pelzelni and ferocior (possibly including phaeonotus) is clinal, with increase in size and pallor of upperparts from N to S, needs to be tested. Phenotypic intergradation occurs between nominate and ferocior, but at mtDNA level this is unidirectional, and hitherto only mtDNA from latter taxon recorded in zone of morphological intergradation. Field and laboratory studies needed. Birds from N sandy savanna of Suriname described as race albimarginatus, and others from French Guiana as amazonus, but characters appear attributable to fresh-plumaged intergrades between phaeonotus and pelzelni; two such intergrade specimens from nearby Guyanan savannas have highly divergent mtDNA; further study required. Four subspecies currently recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • M. s. phaeonotus Salvin & Godman, 1883 – tropical and subtropical zones of S & E Venezuela (Amazonas, Bolívar, Delta Amacuro), W Guyana and adjacent N Brazil (upper R Negro and R Branco).
  • M. s. pelzelni Berlepsch, 1883 – Guianas and C & E perimeter of Amazon Basin S to SE Peru (N Cuzco), N & E Bolivia and SC Brazil (S to N Mato Grosso do Sul, S Goiás and Minas Gerais).
  • M. s. swainsoni Cabanis & Heine, 1860 – SE Paraguay and SE Brazil (São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro) S to extreme NE Argentina (Misiones) and Uruguay; migrates to N South America, ranging from E Colombia, W Venezuela and Trinidad E to NE Brazil (Paraíba).
  • M. s. ferocior Cabanis, 1883 – SE Bolivia (SW Santa Cruz S to E Tarija), W Paraguay and Argentina (S to La Pampa and Buenos Aires); migrates to Amazon Basin as far N as S Colombia.
  • Descriptive notes

    19·5–21 cm; male 21·5–28·5 g, female 21·3–28·9 g (swainsoni), male 34·6–37·6 g (ferocior), both sexes 19·8–26 g (Surinam),... read more


    Mournful whistle commonly heard; dawn song comprises alternated mournful whistles, “huit” notes and... read more


    Variety of habitats, but primarily clearings, wooded areas (especially cerrado, savannas... read more

    Food and feeding

    Insects, also fruits; insects and seeds of berries in stomach contents (nominate race). Reported as “quite frugivorous” in non-breeding... read more


    Feb–May in N (phaeonotus), Sept–Dec in Amazon Basin (pelzelni) and Nov to early Jan in S (nominate and ... read more


    S populations of nominate and ferocior migratory, moving to, respectively, N South America... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). Fairly common to common. Occurs in at least twelve national parks and many other protected areas throughout its very large range.... read more

    Recommended citation

    Joseph, L. (2019). Swainson's Flycatcher (Myiarchus swainsoni). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 7 December 2019).