Monarch Flycatchers: Monarchidae

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Monarch flycatchers are small to medium birds that are 5 to 21 inches (13 to 53 centimeters) long. Their tails can be relatively short compared to their body length but some species have tails that measure 6 inches (15 centimeters). Monarch flycatchers have wide, bluish gray bills with bristles characteristic of insect eaters. They have short legs, long wings, and sharp, curved claws.

Coloring is often quite striking, with most species having no difference between males and females. In those that do show gender variations in color, many have very dramatic differences.


Monarch flycatchers can be found in southern Africa, India and Southeast Asia, Indonesia, and the southern tip of Saudi Arabia. Indonesia is the home of thirty species that nest in the archipelagoes, or groups of tiny islands.


Monarch flycatchers prefer forest habitats, living in clearings and along the edges of the forest growth. They also can be found nesting in fruit plantations, formal gardens, and parks.


These birds are insect eaters. Most members of this family catch flying insects on the wing, while in the air. Others, however, will find insects among the leaves of trees and shrubs.


Monarch flycatchers usually mate for life and forage, search for food, alone with their mates. Some prefer the company of small groups of their kind and may even have other birds help a mated pair raise their young. Though most species prefer solitude, the males are noisy and make elaborate displays when they wish to attract mates.

Females lay two to four eggs in small, cup-shaped nests, made of plant fibers, lichens (LIE-kenz), moss, and even spider webs. These nests are anchored in the forks of tree branches. Both parents usually incubate the eggs, or sit on them until they are hatched. After fourteen days, the plain brown chicks hatch. Their striking coloring appears after they molt, shed their feathers.


Monarch flycatchers are potential attractions for ecotourism, an industry based on attracting tourists to view birds, animals, and environments.


Guam flycatchers, also known as Guam boatbills, were exterminated, killed off, by the introduction of brown tree snakes. Guam has no native snakes, so these snakes quickly multiplied and began to feed on native birds, including Guam flycatchers. The native birds did not have time to develop a defensive strategy as they would have done if they had been exposed to other predatory snakes in their territories over a long period of time.


Five species of monarch flycatcher are Critically Endangered, facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild, and six are Vulnerable, facing a high risk of extinction in the wild. Fourteen are Near Threatened, in danger of becoming threatened with extinction, and two are Extinct, no longer exist.


Physical characteristics: African paradise-flycatchers are the largest paradise-flycatchers in Africa. They have a tail that is twice as long as their body. The head and crest are bluish black, and they have a bright blue ring around the eye. The back and the outside of their tails are reddish brown, with a gray belly. There is either a black or a white stripe on each wing, depending on the subspecies. The tail has two long white feathers that can be as long as 3.5 inches (9 centimeters) in the male. Females have similar coloring but are duller than and not as glossy as males. Subspecies that live in savanna woodlands, characterized by thorny scrub, mopane trees, and grass, are usually all black or all white.

Geographic range: The African paradise-flycatcher is found only in sub-Saharan Africa.

Habitat: Very adaptable, African paradise-flycatchers can be found in almost every habitat in their region, except where it is very dry. They avoid dense forest but will nest along the forest edge, in clearings, and in savanna woodlands. Sometimes the birds are found in orchards, parks, and gardens as high up as 8,200 feet (2,500 meters). Some populations will move from one habitat to another during the dry season.

Diet: These birds eat insects, especially flying ants, termites, butterflies, moths, beetles, and caterpillars.

Behavior and reproduction: African paradise-flycatchers grab flying insects on the wing, and will perch and dive to capture food. Some subspecies search for insects among the leaves of trees, flitting, moving about rapidly, from branch to branch.

Rather solitary, they are found alone or in pairs. Males defend their territory at sunrise and sunset with loud songs and calls. Males also use their long tail and crest as courtship displays to attract a female. Sometimes, males will shiver their wings and do a dance on a branch. The female lays two to three white eggs in a cup-shaped nest that is anchored to the fork of a branch with spider webs. Both the male and the female incubate the eggs for fifteen days. The young birds are fed by the parents for eleven to fifteen days, but stay nearby for another week.

African paradise-flycatchers and people: Because of their striking beauty, African paradise-flycatchers are potential attractions for ecotourism.

Conservation status: African paradise-flycatchers are quite common throughout Africa and their numbers are healthy. However African paradise-flycatchers in East Africa are rapidly disappearing due to the population explosion of crows, which were imported into the country in 1891. Crow numbers have become so large that in Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania, alone there are nearly 500,000 crows. These birds attack native birds, livestock, and domestic pets. Crows attack African paradise-flycatchers outright and eat them. Working in pairs, one crow often distracts the bird away from its nest while another crow steals the eggs. African flycatchers are no longer found in the city. Though African paradise-flycatcher numbers elsewhere are numerous, they will become even more threatened as the crows move inland. ∎


Physical characteristics: Also called Pacific monarchs, black-naped monarchs are only 6 inches (16 centimeters) long. Their legs and feet are so weak they sit in a squatting pose when they perch. Both the male and the female have bright blue coloring on their heads, necks, backs, and chests, with grayish white bellies. Females, though blue, have grayish brown tones on their backs and more blue on their tails and wings. Males also have a round black spot on the back of their head, or nape. The Chinese name for this bird means, "black pillow," and refers to this black spot. In addition, males have a black stripe that encircles their throat. Because of their small size and their bright blue coloring, these birds have been nicknamed the "blue fairies of the forest."

Geographic range: This species can be found in India, Southeast Asia, southern China, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Indonesia.

Habitat: Black-naped monarchs are common in mixed forests of pine and hardwoods below 4,265 feet (1,300 meters), as well as in stands of bamboo in river valleys. Though many black-naped monarchs prefer the lower to middle levels of the forest canopy and will nest close to the ground, the population in Taiwan prefers the upper and middle levels of the forest canopy and are not usually seen on the ground. They will migrate to cooler, higher elevations when the temperatures get too warm.

Diet: Black-naped monarchs eat insects, including butterflies, moths, and crickets.

Behavior and reproduction: The call of the black-naped monarch is a series of short whistles or trills. Sometimes, they give out loud chirps when they vocalize.

Territorial birds, they remain close to their ranges in pairs or alone. They will gather in small flocks or with other species when it is not mating season. These birds begin searching for mates at the end of the spring and on through the middle of summer. Females lay two to three cream or buff eggs that have reddish brown spots in their deep woven nests. Built into the forks of tree branches, these nests are made of plant materials, bark, moss, and spider webs.

Black-naped monarchs and people: These birds have no special significance to people.

Conservation status: Black-naped monarchs are very common and are not threatened with extinction. ∎



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