Photo: Brian E. Small/Vireo

Gray Flycatcher

Empidonax wrightii

The high desert of the Great Basin is the summer stronghold of this pale little bird. The Gray Flycatcher nests in sagebrush country and in open woods of juniper and pinyon pine, in drier territory than most of its relatives. It also regularly winters farther north than any other Empidonax flycatcher: it is common in winter in the mesquite thickets and streamside groves of southern Arizona.
Conservation status Still widespread and fairly common.
Family Tyrant Flycatchers
Habitat Sagebrush; also pinyon and juniper. In winter, willows, brush. Breeds in open and rather arid habitats, especially sagebrush plains with a few taller trees or shrubs, also scrubby woods of juniper and pinyon pine. Winters in mesquite groves and in streamside willows and other trees, in lowlands.
The high desert of the Great Basin is the summer stronghold of this pale little bird. The Gray Flycatcher nests in sagebrush country and in open woods of juniper and pinyon pine, in drier territory than most of its relatives. It also regularly winters farther north than any other Empidonax flycatcher: it is common in winter in the mesquite thickets and streamside groves of southern Arizona.
Photo Gallery
  • adult
  • adult
Feeding Behavior

Forages by watching for insects from an exposed perch, then flying out to catch them in bill. Typically perches low, and often flies down to ground for insects; also catches many insects in mid-air, and takes some from foliage and twigs while hovering.


Eggs

3-4. Creamy white. Incubation is probably by female only, about 14 days. Young: Both parents bring food for nestlings. Young leave nest and make first flights about 16 days after hatching.


Young

Both parents bring food for nestlings. Young leave nest and make first flights about 16 days after hatching.

Diet

Insects. Diet not known in detail, but reported to feed only on insects, including beetles, wasps, moths, grasshoppers, and others.


Nesting

May sometimes nest in loose colonies in good habitat. In places, this species and Dusky Flycatcher overlap in nesting habitat, and they will defend territories against each other. Nest site is typically in vertical crotch of sagebrush or on horizontal branch of juniper or pinyon pine, 3-20' above the ground. Nest (built mostly by female, perhaps sometimes with help from male) is a deep cup, rather bulky and loosely constructed. Made of weeds, strips of bark, grasses, twigs; lined with plant down, fine bark fibers, animal fur, feathers. Nest is usually in dense part of plant and is not conspicuous.

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

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

Migration

Migrates shorter distance than most Empidonax flycatchers. Moves rather early in both spring and fall, with some arrivals on breeding range in April and on wintering range in August. Probably migrates at night.

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Migration

Migrates shorter distance than most Empidonax flycatchers. Moves rather early in both spring and fall, with some arrivals on breeding range in April and on wintering range in August. Probably 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 is in 2 parts, rising in tone: chiwip (or chi-bit) cheep. Call is a soft 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

Gray 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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