Photo: P. Moylan/Vireo

Least Flycatcher

Empidonax minimus

The eleven Empidonax flycatchers in North America are notorious for causing trouble for birders. All are small birds with wing-bars and eye-rings, and most are very hard to tell apart. The Least Flycatcher is the smallest and grayest of this group in the east, and it is often common near woodland edges, where it perches in the open and raps out its snappy song, chebeck!
Conservation status Surveys show some declining populations in southern part of breeding range; however, still widespread and common.
Family Tyrant Flycatchers
Habitat Open woods, aspen groves, orchards, shade trees. Breeds in deciduous or mixed woodlands, seldom in purely coniferous groves. Usually around clearings or edges, but sometimes in the interior of dry woods. Winters in the tropics around woodland edges and second growth.
The eleven Empidonax flycatchers in North America are notorious for causing trouble for birders. All are small birds with wing-bars and eye-rings, and most are very hard to tell apart. The Least Flycatcher is the smallest and grayest of this group in the east, and it is often common near woodland edges, where it perches in the open and raps out its snappy song, chebeck!
Photo Gallery
  • adult
  • juvenile
  • adult
  • immature (1st winter)
Feeding Behavior

Forages by watching from a perch and flying out to catch insects. Often perches on dead twigs within the middle to lower levels of trees, in fairly open spots. Catches most insects in mid-air, but also takes food (including caterpillars and spiders) from foliage while hovering.


Eggs

4, sometimes 3, occasionally 5. Creamy white. Incubation is by female only, 13-15 days. Young: Both parents bring food for nestlings. Age of young at first flight about 12-17 days; may be fed by parents for another 2-3 weeks after fledging.


Young

Both parents bring food for nestlings. Age of young at first flight about 12-17 days; may be fed by parents for another 2-3 weeks after fledging.

Diet

Mostly insects. Summer diet is mostly insects, including many small wasps, winged ants, beetles, caterpillars, midges, and flies, with smaller numbers of true bugs, grasshoppers, and others. Also eats spiders, and occasionally a few berries.


Nesting

May nest in loose colonies. Courtship behavior not well known, but may involve male chasing female through the trees. Least Flycatchers often actively chase American Redstarts out of nesting territory. Nest site is usually in deciduous sapling or small tree such as maple, birch, or ash, placed in a vertical fork in a branch. May be 2-65' above ground, but heights usually average 12-25' up, varying with habitat. Nest (evidently built by female only) is a tidy cup of grass, strips of bark, twigs, lichens, plant fibers, often bound together with webs of spiders or caterpillars; lined with fine grass, plant down, animal hair, feathers.

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

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

Migration

Migrants are rare in the west, so many of those breeding in western Canada apparently migrate east and then south. In fall, adults tend to migrate south earlier than young birds. A few may winter in southern Florida.

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Migration

Migrants are rare in the west, so many of those breeding in western Canada apparently migrate east and then south. In fall, adults tend to migrate south earlier than young birds. A few may winter in southern Florida.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Dry, insect-like che-bec, snapped out and accented on the second syllable, and uttered incessantly through the hottest days of summer.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

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

Least 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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