At a Glance

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.
Perching Birds
Low Concern
Forests and Woodlands, Freshwater Wetlands, Lakes, Ponds, and Rivers, Tundra and Boreal Habitats
Alaska and The North, Eastern Canada, Florida, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Plains, Southeast, Texas, Western Canada
Flitter, Hovering

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

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.


5-6" (13-15 cm). Large Empidonax flycatcher with greenish gray back, large bill, white throat. Eye-ring sometimes not well defined. Extremely similar to Willow Flycatcher, most safely identified by voice.
About the size of a Sparrow
Gray, Green, White
Wing Shape
Tail Shape
Notched, Square-tipped

Songs and Calls

A burry fee-bee-o, rather different from the wheezy fitz-bew of the Willow Flycatcher.
Call Pattern
Falling, Flat, Undulating
Call Type
Buzz, Chirp/Chip, Whistle


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.



3-4, rarely 2. White, with brown spots concentrated toward larger end. Incubation is by female, 12-14 days.


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

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.


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.


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.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

Much of breeding habitat in the north is remote from effects of human disturbance. Numbers probably stable.

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Alder Flycatcher. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the Alder Flycatcher

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.