One of the characteristic breeding birds of the Canadian boreal conifer forests and peatlands, the Yellow-bellied Flycatcher nests in cool, moist conifer or mixed forests, bogs, swamps, and muskegs, landscapes that are often flat or poorly drained. It is an elusive bird but one of the most distinctive members of genus Empidonax in appearance and habits. Its yellowish underparts and eye-ring make it the most easily identified Empidonax of eastern North America, yet overall, its plumage blends well with the mossy muskeg forests of its summer home or the Meso-American rain forests of its winter home -- from central Mexico south to Panama. On breeding grounds, this flycatcher reigns over an elfin world of sphagnum mosses, bunchberry, twinflower, and goldthread under the shady boughs of conifers.
The Yellow-bellied Flycatcher does not linger long on its breeding grounds; its summer stay is one of the shortest of the Neotropical birds that visit the northern part of the continent for nesting, often less than 70 days.