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Alder Flycatcher Life History



The Alder Flycatcher is a bird of wet thickets, breeding in brushy meadows, shrubby wetlands, overgrown beaver ponds, and, appropriately, in thickets of alder as well as buckthorn, willow, maple and other wetland trees. Very little is known about their wintering habitat, since it’s very difficult to differentiate Alder, Willow, and other Empidonax flycatchers without hearing their songs.

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Alder Flycatchers eat insects that they pick from foliage during short flights or catch in midair. Prey include wasps, beetles, flies, butterflies and caterpillars, and grasshoppers. Wintering birds may include fruit in their diet.

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Nest Placement


Alder Flycatchers nest low in dense, shrubby bushes.

Nest Description

Alder Flycatchers build an untidy and bulky cup nest of coarse grass. The nest usually has “streamers’ of moss, cattail, and grass hanging from the bottom or the rim of the nest.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:3-4 eggs
Number of Broods:1 brood
Egg Length:0.7-0.8 in (1.8-2 cm)
Egg Width:0.5-0.6 in (1.3-1.5 cm)
Incubation Period:11-14 days
Egg Description:Creamy white or buff, unmarked or dotted with dark irregular markings around large end.
Condition at Hatching:Helpless and with only small patches of olive-brown down.
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Like most small flycatchers, the Alder Flycatcher spends much of its time perched on a tree branch, flying out to glean insects from nearby leaves or to catch insects in midair. They appear to be seasonally monogamous. Males are fairly territorial, and respond to rival songs by flicking the wings and tail, raising the crest, and chasing the intruder. Both sexes help incubate the eggs and feed the young.

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Low Concern

According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, Alder Flycatcher numbers increased in the U.S. but decreased in Canada between 1966 and 2014. The combined trend is an estimated decline of 0.9% per year over that period. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 120 million and gives the species a 9 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a low level of conservation concern. Nevertheless, the group estimates that if current rates of decline continue, the Alder Flycatcher will lose another half of its population by 2082. The cause of this decline is not well understood, although it fits a general trend of declines among aerial insectivores, or birds that catch insects in flight. Habitat alteration appears to be initially favorable to Alder Flycatchers as the species is most commonly found in successional and second-growth habitat.

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Lowther, Peter E. (1999). Alder Flycatcher (Empidonax alnorum), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2015.2. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2015.

Partners in Flight (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2017). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2015. Version 2.07.2017. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

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Learn more at Birds of the World