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
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.
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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 Will Reshape the Range of the Gray Flycatcher

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.

Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.

Climate threats facing the Gray 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.

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