Widely distributed through the tropical Andes, from northwest Venezuela to southernmost Peru, principally on the east slope, Variegated Bristle-Tyrant inhabits humid montane forest at 1500 up to at least 2300 m. This species usually is encountered alone or in pairs, and often with mixed species foraging flocks. Many of these bands also contain the closely related Marble-faced Bristle-Tyrant (Phylloscartes ophthalmicus). Most aspects of the natural history of Variegated Bristle-Tyrant are still very poorly described in the literature, but it probably mainly feeds on insects, seized by hover-gleaning. Its plumage is typically rather nondescript, but Variegated Bristle-Tyrant should be readily separated from the Marble-faced Bristle-Tyrant by virtue of its chestnut buff, as opposed to yellowish, wingbars, as well as its brighter and yellower underparts. Variegated Bristle-Tyrant is usually considered monotypic, although a separate subspecies has been described from extreme northwestern Venezuela.