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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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 Will Reshape the Range of the Willow 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 Willow 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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