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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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

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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

See a fully interactive migration map for this species on the Bird Migration Explorer.

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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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