22 Feb 2013

White-headed Marsh Tyrant (Arundinicola leucocephala)

Creature Feature, News of Asa Wright

Photo by Pierre-Yves Bilat


The White-headed Marsh Tyrant is a resident of Trinidad which frequents marshy savannahs, the edges of mangrove swamps and at times, the seashore. A fairly conspicuous flycatcher, its white head and neck, and black body rendered it the nicknames “Widow” and “Nun”. In the field, its colour is most relied on to identify it, as its call of a high-pitched ‘tzeek’ is not often whistled.

The White-headed Marsh Tyrant belongs to the largest family existing in the Neotropics, the Tyrannidae or Tyrant Flycatcher family. This species is restricted to South America (from Columbia and Southern Venezuela to Bolivia, Argentina and Paraguay) and Trinidad, where it breeds from January to April and from July to October.

At 13 cm long, this Tyrannid is smaller than the Pied Water-Tyrant, another

speciesfoundinTrinidad,towhichitbears a resemblance. Unlike the Pied Water Tyrant, however, the White-headed Marsh Tyrant is seldom seen on the ground and may only drop briefly to the ground to capture insects. Single or pairs of Marsh Tyrants are normally seen perching on low branches or fences.

The White-headed Marsh Tyrant has, like members of the Flycatcher family, the distinctive habit of sallying for insects from perches. Its diet centres on terrestrial invertebrates such as dragonflies, grasshoppers, froghoppers (Tomaspis) and beetles.

The White-headed Marsh Tyrant builds spherical nests with a ‘porch’ obscuring the entrance. In these nests, they lay a clutch of two to four white eggs. Both parents attend to the young.

So, on your next birding adventure, look out for the small but striking White- headed Marsh Tyrant.

– J.L. Ryan



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