Photo: Glenn Bartley/Vireo

Dusky Flycatcher

Empidonax oberholseri

Among the confusing Empidonax flycatchers in the west, birders know the Dusky as a bird in the middle. It is intermediate in size and shape between the Hammond's and Gray flycatchers; its breeding habitat is also intermediate, at middle elevations in the mountains, where tall conifers stand among shrubby low thickets. Pioneer ornithologists in the west often confused the Dusky and Gray flycatchers, and they debated for years whether or not there were really two species.
Conservation status Still widespread and fairly common.
Family Tyrant Flycatchers
Habitat Breeds in mountain chaparral (Canadian-zone brush) with scattering of trees. Favored habitat includes both trees and low bushes: varies from open conifer forest with understory of deciduous shrubs, to brushy slopes with a few taller trees. In migration, often in foothills. Winters in streamside woods in southwest, or in a variety of semi-open habitats in Mexico.
Among the confusing Empidonax flycatchers in the west, birders know the Dusky as a bird in the middle. It is intermediate in size and shape between the Hammond's and Gray flycatchers; its breeding habitat is also intermediate, at middle elevations in the mountains, where tall conifers stand among shrubby low thickets. Pioneer ornithologists in the west often confused the Dusky and Gray flycatchers, and they debated for years whether or not there were really two species.
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Feeding Behavior

Forages by watching from an exposed perch (often on a dead branch), then flying out to capture insects, usually in the air. Sometimes drops to ground or hovers next to foliage or bark to capture insects there.


Eggs

4, sometimes 2-3, rarely 5. Smaller clutches may be laid on second attempts after first nesting fails. Eggs dull white, rarely dotted with brown. Incubation is by female only, usually 15-16 days. Young: Brooded by female, and fed by both parents. Young leave the nest about 15-20 days after hatching, may be fed by parents for another 3 weeks. 1 brood per year.


Young

Brooded by female, and fed by both parents. Young leave the nest about 15-20 days after hatching, may be fed by parents for another 3 weeks. 1 brood per year.

Diet

Insects. Diet not known in detail, but so far as known feeds entirely on insects, including moths, bees, wasps, grasshoppers, damselflies, caterpillars, butterflies, and undoubtedly others, probably all of rather small size.


Nesting

Male defends nesting territory by singing from prominent perch; occasionally performs short flight-song display. In courtship, both sexes hop about in branches, fluttering wings. Nest site is usually in deciduous shrub, less often in conifer; usually 3-6' above ground, rarely up to 16'. Placed in vertical fork among dense foliage. Nest (probably built by female only) is cup of grasses, weeds, shreds of bark, lined with plant down, feathers, animal hair, and other soft materials.

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

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

Migration

Arrives on breeding grounds mostly in May, departs mostly in August. Evidently migrates at night.

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Migration

Arrives on breeding grounds mostly in May, departs mostly in August. Evidently migrates at night.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Song similar to that of Hammond's Flycatcher: a staccato series of chirps, transcribed as se-lip, churp, treep. Call is a sharp whit.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Tyrant Flycatchers Perching Birds

Dusky Flycatcher

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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