Age, habitat, and yearly variation in the diet of a generalist insectivore, the Southwestern willow flycatcher

Scott L. Durst, Tad C. Theimer, Eben H. Paxton, Mark K. Sogge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Characterizing avian diet is complex, especially for generalist insectivores, as food resources can vary over space and time, and individuals of different sexes and ages may consume different food. We examined diet of a generalist insectivore, the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher (Empidonax traillii extimus), at Roosevelt Lake in central Arizona from 2000 to 2004, determined from 344 fecal samples. We found that five prey categories accounted for 70% of the proportional abundance in flycatcher diet: Hymenoptera, Diptera, Cicadellidae, Coleoptera, and Formicidae, although the relative amounts of these and other taxa differed significantly among years. We detected no differences in diet between sexes of adults, but adults and nestlings differed, with higher proportions of Hymenoptera in adult samples and more Diptera in nestling samples. Using a subset of samples, we compared flycatcher diet in habitat patches dominated by native cottonwood (Populus fremontii) and willow (Salix gooddingii), exotic salt cedar (Tamarix ramosissima), or a mix of these tree species. We found that prey groups varied significantly among habitats in only one year, 2002, with Araneae, Lepidoptera, and Odonata significant indicators of native habitat, Cicadellidae and Hymenoptera significant indicators of exotic habitats, and Homoptera a significant indicator of mixed habitat. In 2002, a severe drought resulted in reduced prey base and near total reproductive failure, but we detected no major shift in the composition of adult diet during that year, suggesting that for generalists like the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher, overall insect abundance may be a more important driver of productivity than abundance of specific prey taxa.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)514-525
Number of pages12
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2008


  • Annual variation
  • Empidonax traillii extimus
  • Endangered species
  • Food resources
  • Riparian
  • Tamarix

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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