Photo: Kelly Colgan Azar/Flickr Creative Commons

Willow Flycatcher

Empidonax traillii

Until the 1970s, this bird and the Alder Flycatcher masqueraded as just one species under the name "Traill's Flycatcher." They are essentially identical in looks, but their voices are different. Either kind may be found in thickets of either willow or alder shrubs, but their ranges are largely separate: Alder Flycatchers spend the summer mostly in Canada and Alaska, while Willow Flycatchers nest mostly south of the Canadian border.
Conservation status Has declined in some areas with loss of streamside habitat. The race that nests along streams in the southwest is now considered threatened or endangered.
Family Tyrant Flycatchers
Habitat Bushes, willow thickets, brushy fields, upland copses. Breeds in thickets of deciduous trees and shrubs, especially willows, or along woodland edges. Often near streams or marshes (especially in southern part of range), but may be found in drier habitats than Alder Flycatcher. Winters around clearings and second growth in the tropics, especially near water.
Until the 1970s, this bird and the Alder Flycatcher masqueraded as just one species under the name "Traill's Flycatcher." They are essentially identical in looks, but their voices are different. Either kind may be found in thickets of either willow or alder shrubs, but their ranges are largely separate: Alder Flycatchers spend the summer mostly in Canada and Alaska, while Willow Flycatchers nest mostly south of the Canadian border.
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  • adult  Western
  • adult Eastern
  • adult Western
  • adult Southwestern
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. Pale buff to whitish, with brown spots concentrated toward larger end. Incubation is by female, 12-15 days. Young: Both parents bring food for nestlings. Age of young at first flight about 12-14 days.


Young

Both parents bring food for nestlings. Age of young at first flight about 12-14 days.

Diet

Mostly insects. Differences in diet, if any, between this species and Alder 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 (female may sing also). Courtship behavior is not well known, probably involves male actively chasing female through the trees. In some regions, Brown-headed Cowbirds often lay their eggs in nests of this species. Nest site is in a deciduous shrub or tree, especially in willow, 4-15' above the ground. Placed in a vertical or diagonal fork of a branch, or on top of a horizontal branch. Nest (built by female alone) is an open cup of grass, strips of bark, plant fibers, lined with plant down and other soft materials. Nest often has strips of plant material dangling from the bottom.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Migrates relatively late in spring and early in fall. In North America, migrants are seen moving north mostly during mid to late May, moving south in August and September.

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Migration

Migrates relatively late in spring and early in fall. In North America, migrants are seen moving north mostly during mid to late May, moving south in August and September.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A wheezy fitz-bew or pit-speer. The song of the Alder Flycatcher is a burry fee-bee-o, descending more abruptly in pitch.
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

Willow 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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