Photo: Simon Pierre Barrette/Wikimedia Creative Commons

Alder Flycatcher

Empidonax alnorum

A small bird that spends the summer catching flying insects in northern thickets. This bird and the Willow Flycatcher are so similar to each other that they were considered one species until the 1970s. The only differences apparent in the field are in their voices. However, voice is important to these birds: many other kinds of songbirds have to learn their songs, but Willow and Alder flycatchers are born instinctively knowing the voice of their own species.
Conservation status Much of breeding habitat in the north is remote from effects of human disturbance. Numbers probably stable.
Family Tyrant Flycatchers
Habitat Willows, alders, brushy swamps, swales. Breeds in thickets of deciduous trees and shrubs, usually near water, as around streams, ponds, or bogs. Especially common in thickets of willows or alders. Winters in woodland edges or second growth in the tropics, especially near water.
A small bird that spends the summer catching flying insects in northern thickets. This bird and the Willow Flycatcher are so similar to each other that they were considered one species until the 1970s. The only differences apparent in the field are in their voices. However, voice is important to these birds: many other kinds of songbirds have to learn their songs, but Willow and Alder flycatchers are born instinctively knowing the voice of their own species.
Photo Gallery
  • adult
  • adult
  • adult and nestlings
Feeding Behavior

Forages by watching from a perch and then flying out to catch insects. Usually forages from perches within tall shrubs or low trees; catches insects in mid-air, or takes them from foliage while hovering.


Eggs

3-4, rarely 2. White, with brown spots concentrated toward larger end. Incubation is by female, 12-14 days. Young: Both parents bring food for nestlings. Age of young at first flight about 13-14 days.


Young

Both parents bring food for nestlings. Age of young at first flight about 13-14 days.

Diet

Mostly insects. Differences in diet, if any, between this species and Willow Flycatcher are not well known. Apparently eats mostly insects, including wasps, bees, winged ants, beetles, flies, caterpillars, moths, true bugs, and others. Also eats some spiders, a few berries, and possibly some seeds.


Nesting

Male defends nesting territory by singing. Courtship behavior is not well known, probably involves male actively chasing female through the trees. Nest site is usually low in a deciduous shrub, averaging about 2' up, usually lower than 6' above the ground. Placed in a vertical or diagonal fork in a branch. Nest (probably built by female alone) is an open cup, usually built rather loosely of grass, weeds, strips of bark, small twigs, rootlets, lined with plant down or other soft materials. Nest may have strips of grass or bark dangling from the bottom.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

More of a long-distance migrant than Willow Flycatcher, tending to nest farther north and winter farther south. Migrates late in spring and early in fall.

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Migration

More of a long-distance migrant than Willow Flycatcher, tending to nest farther north and winter farther south. Migrates late in spring and early in fall.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A burry fee-bee-o, rather different from the wheezy fitz-bew of the Willow Flycatcher.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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