Bird GuideTyrant FlycatchersWillow Flycatcher

At a Glance

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.
Perching Birds, Tyrant Flycatchers
Low Concern
Arroyos and Canyons, Fields, Meadows, and Grasslands, Forests and Woodlands, Freshwater Wetlands, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets
California, Florida, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Flitter, Hovering

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

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.


6" (15 cm). Almost identical to Alder Flycatcher (and formerly considered same species). Tends to be browner and show less obvious eye-ring, but safely identified only by voice.
About the size of a Robin, About the size of a Sparrow
Gray, White
Wing Shape
Tail Shape
Notched, Square-tipped

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.
Call Pattern
Falling, Flat, Undulating
Call Type
Buzz, Chirp/Chip, Trill


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.



3-4. Pale buff to whitish, with brown spots concentrated toward larger end. Incubation is by female, 12-15 days.


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


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.

Climate Vulnerability

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.

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 Willow Flycatcher. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

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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